First Circuit

A New Experiment In Oral Arguments

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For Supreme Court watchers and appellate practitioners, last week brought an interesting development – the Court is changing how it conducts oral argument.  Arguments will now feature both unstructured questioning by all justices and then uninterrupted questioning by individual justices. It will be fascinating to watch how this new approach affects oral arguments in the Supreme Court, and whether it will trickle down to other federal and state appellate courts.

As highlighted at SCOTUSblog (here) and the Appellate Advocacy Blog (here and here), the new format first gives counsel two minutes of uninterrupted time, and then allows for free-for-all questioning by the justices for the remainder of counsel’s 30 minutes of argument.  That is familiar practice; in a new twist, however, each justice in order of seniority then has the opportunity – after the 30 minutes of time has expired – to question counsel individually.  No strict time limit applies to this new segment

All Cleaned Up

Appellate advocacy is about persuasion – and the most important avenue for persuading appellate judges is a brief that is clear, concise, and readable.  So what does an appellate attorney do when confronted by the need to quote a passage that contains ellipses, citations, or alterations in brackets?  One less-than-desirable option is to include all of that extraneous material and a long citation string, making for a hard-to-read quote that is central to your case.  But there is another option – and it was just endorsed by Justice Thomas last month.

A little bit of background:  As discussed over at the Appellate Advocacy Blog, Jack Metzler began a conversation about this issue by suggesting that unnecessary quotation clutter could be omitted if the citation for the quote is followed by the parenthetical “(cleaned up).”  The proposal has its supporters, including no less than Bryan Garner, but also its critics.  The approach would improve readability, but might become a crutch that encourages appellate lawyers

Appellate Trends During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Chief Justice Roberts recently issued his year-end report on the federal judiciary, appropriately focusing on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Chief Justice noted that 2020 ended with the judiciary in much the same situation as when the American court system began – in the midst of a public health crisis.  In 1790, it was the influenza.  In 2020, of course, it was the coronavirus.  Throughout the history of our judicial system, whether by horseback or by Zoom, the work of appellate courts has proceeded despite health challenges.

What caught my attention in the report was a statistic showing that new filings in regional courts of appeal fell by less than one percent in 2020, from 48,486 to 48,190.  New civil appeals decreased five percent, reflecting a decrease in new civil filings in district courts.  That made me delve deeper into judicial statistics, to look at what is going on in the First Circuit and in Maine.

The same downward trend

Immediate Appeals of Temporary Restraining Orders? Not So Fast.

Interlocutory appeals, including those relating to injunctive relief, often present traps for the unwary.  In state court in Maine, parties typically cannot appeal an order granting or denying a motion for preliminary injunction.  The Law Court has so held in numerous cases, including Sanborn v. Sanborn.  In federal court, by contrast, it is possible to appeal an order granting or denying a motion for preliminary injunction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292.  But is it possible to appeal an order denying a motion for a temporary restraining order in federal court?  This was the issue recently tackled by the First Circuit in Calvary Chapel v. Mills.  The answer, in short, is “usually, no.”

Calvary Chapel is but one of the many cases that have spun out of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In it, a church challenged an early executive order issued by Governor Mills limiting “non-essential” activities and gatherings.  The plaintiff

COVID-19 and Appellate Practice

Holed up here in my home office like many of you, I thought it would be a helpful time to take stock of the current state of affairs in the courts of appeal during this pandemic. As with most of life, COVID-19 has disrupted normal operations, leaving all of us in a state of uncertainty. But here is where things currently stand:

In the Supreme Court, the March oral argument session has been cancelled – a highly unusual step, but one that happened previously with the Spanish flu in 1918. The Supreme Court has also issued a standing order extending some deadlines, including the deadline for filing a petition for cert.

The First Circuit, meanwhile, has posted a notice stating that the April 6-9 sitting has been cancelled. No blanket order has yet issued extending deadlines, however. That may change. [UPDATE: The First Circuit has extended deadlines for many filings due