February 2017

Adam Liptak has a comprehensive article in today’s New York Times over nationwide appellate proceedings regarding President Trump’s Executive Order banning travel from several Middle Eastern nations. The article tracks the progress of an order from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington staying enforcement of much of the Executive Order. The administration has appealed and that case is moving forward on an accelerated briefing schedule in the Ninth Circuit. On the East Coast, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts has refused to grant a stay of the Executive Order’s enforcement, reasoning that the immigrants are not likely to prevail on the merits.

The issue in the case is how to draw the line between executive power under Article II versus the First Amendment’s protection against the establishment of a religion. Article II vests in the president wide latitude in conducting foreign affairs and in regulating immigration into the country.

Issues to Consider

  • To what extent may we look beyond the text of the executive order? The text mentions nothing about banning immigrants on the basis of religion. Here’s the relevant text:

In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.

  • The President has made some statements about a potential preference for Christians seeking to enter the United States to escape persecution. But I am unclear on the extent to which the courts are allowed to look to such statements versus the language of the order.
  • Even if the restriction is wholly or partially based in religion, is there a First-Amendment violation? May religion be a factor in immigration decisions? It’s a murkier question than it might appear on its face. May the government weigh a person’s religion as a factor in determining the extent to which the person poses a threat to safety? The question would turn on whether doing so “establishes” a religion. For instance, let’s imagine a hypothetical religion. Suppose there was a sect of people who believed that the true God countenanced no secular leaders and that it was the sacred duty of a follower of that religion to overthrow any secular governmental figures. In other words, the central religious tenets of our hypothetical religion included a duty to war against the idea of government. Would it be a violation of the First Amendment to bar adherents to that religion from entering the country? The answer would appear to be no.

If I were to place a bet on the outcome of this litigation, I would bet on the administration. Beyond the Constitution, Congress has vested the President with broad power over immigration. Adam Liptak writes:

A key part of immigration law does give the president broad power. It says, “Whenever the president finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”

But another part of the law forbids discrimination “because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence,” but only “in the issuance of an immigrant visa.” The Trump administration argues that the power to bar entry, the subject of the first law, is broader than the limits on issuing visas.

I make no editorial comment upon the wisdom of the president’s immigration decisions. Rather, in terms of the law, he likely stands on a solid footing with respect to current legal challenges to the Order.

I’m feeling a bit guilty. Well over a year ago, the publisher of Typography for Lawyers sent me a review copy. I have been using my free copy for quite some time, and I never wrote a review. It sits on the shelf next to the first edition, which I purchased. And this shelf is fairly sacred space that includes Aldisert’s Winning on Appeal, my collection of Bryan Garner’s greatest hits, and Ross Guberman’s Point Taken.

My original review of the first edition is worth a read. And I won’t repeat what I have already written. The second edition has about twenty additional pages. Among the things covered in the new edition, you will find a section on email, updates on the newest version of word processing programs, and an updated list of fonts. If you write and file pleadings in court, you should purchase the book. And if you already have the first edition, you may not necessarily need the second edition. But I would encourage you to buy it just to support what Matthew does for the legal community. He wrote an excellent article for Georgia’s appellate practice newsletter a few years ago when I was the section chair. And his work is helping us to help clients with more professional-looking briefs. Whatever profit he has made, I think it should be doubled.

For several years now, I have been aware of this book and have used it to produce better briefs. I’ll admit that I could do much better. And if you are new to his work, here is what I would suggest. The next time you are preparing a motion or a brief, open his book (or go to his website) and apply just one principle to your writing. Perhaps, eliminate the extra space after a period or figure out how to prepare case caption using a table rather than with colons and tabs. Next time, add another technique. I made the mistake of trying to incorporate the entire book into my writing at once. I do the same thing with Garner’s books. And I even do the same thing with materials I read on running. Take Typography for Lawyers, and aim to make your next legal writing 1% better from a typography perspective.

I found another helpful byproduct from these books. If you are going to care about the typography of the brief, you must start early on your writing. Typography is important, but there isn’t time to devote to it unless you get the content done first. But if you give yourself the time for the typography, it can make a significant impact on what you write. The goal of good typography is not to make your writing prettier or different from the competition (though both of those things will happen). The goal of good typography is to make your writing easier to read. The goal is to make yours a work that the judge wants to read. And you cannot attend to this important piece until the content is where you want it to be.

Typography for Lawyers is a deceptively short book. It is a short book of typography in the same way that Kibran’s The Prophet is a short book of philosophy. I made the mistake of thinking that I could “install” all of the principles from the book at once. I have since learned that, just as the law is a “practice,” so is “typography.” With the release of a second edition, Matthew has shown a commitment to updating his work to keep pace with emerging technology. I hope you order ourself a copy of the book and enjoy the journey that is outlined in the pages.

At the start of this week, I penned a post critical of how President Trump handled the firing of Sally Yates. Today, I write to commend his nomination of Judge Gorsuch for the United States Supreme Court.

Textualists and the criminal appellate bar are natural allies. And such is the case with this pick. I want to discuss briefly one case here to give you a glimpse of how a Justice Gorsuch might approach criminal cases. And if you have about forty-five minutes, I cannot recommend enough the most recent edition of the First Mondays Podcast, where you will find an interview with a former Gorsuch clerk and a discussion of some of the judge’s more notable tenth-circuit opinions (I swear these guys aren’t paying me to promote them).

The case I want to highlight is United States v. Gamez Perez. In that case, Judge Gorsuch wrote a dissent to a petition for rehearing en banc. Here was the issue. Mr. Gamez Perez was convicted to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. His defense was that he did not know that he was a convicted felon. He had good reason not to know his status as a felon. When he entered a plea to the underlying offense in the state system, the state-court judge told him that he was not a felon. He was later charged with possessing a firearm under 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). The opinion in the case was that the statute required only that a defendant know that he was in possession of a firearm. The court held that there was no mens rea element for the status of a convicted felon.

Judge Gorsuch dissented reasoning that the knowledge element should spread to include knowledge that a defendant is a convicted felon. He based his reasoning on a fairly established canon of statutory construction that mens rea language, if placed at the beginning of a sentence spread to all other substantive elements of the statute. And he based his opinion on basic rules of grammar and usage. Here are a couple of points that I like about Judge Gorsuch’s approach:

  • First, his writing style is excellent. I could hand this opinion to a non-lawyer friend and feel confident that she could follow it. But an appellate lawyer would see that the writing is professional and thorough. There is no higher praise for legal writing than that. If I am going to read a justice’s opinions for the next 30 years, I like knowing that it won’t give me  headaches.
  • He reads the text, researches the law, and lets those things guide him to the result. He does not envision a result then bend the law to get there. This approach may be bad for the criminal defendant in specific instances. But it will always be fair to the criminal defendant and to the prosecution. I find the approach to be sadly rare. The criminal defense bar endures no end of judicial linguistic gymnastics so that law enforcement can “get the bad guy.” Just today, I was speaking to a potential client about the standard for getting something done in a post-conviction matter. And in the first half of my explanation I explained the standard under the law. In the second half, I explained how the just would really decide the case. It is nice when the relevant statute is the guide to how the case will be decided.
  • He seems to care about the defendant’s plight. While he is not bending the law to get to a result, he seems genuinely troubled that the state-level judge told the defendant that he was not a felon, and the defendant relied upon those re-assurances to his extreme detriment.
  • He is suspicious of arguments about legislative history where the statute is clear on its face. Whenever I have a solid argument on the law and a judge’s opinion starts getting into legislative history, I know that I am about to call a client to relay bad news.

In my career, I have never minded judges who sentence harshly. I have never minded judges who run their calendars in a controlling way. Sentencing and calendar management are what judges do. I have always disliked dealing with judges with an agenda that spills into how they rule. Prosecutors Apologists refer to this as “folksy wisdom,” “common sense,” or say “he always seems to get to the right place.” A judge who looks at the law, applies it to the facts, and works hard to be fair is about as much as you an ask for in a judge. And based upon this case and others I have read out of the Tench Circuit, Judge Gorsuch looks like a solid pick.

finishlineMany of our cases take months or years to take from start to finish. But the way we finish is as important as how we start. I’ve written in a previous blog post that we take on cases with the knowledge that we will often be engaged in the process for quite some time. Direct appeals and habeas corpus can take years as you assemble the file, get the transcripts, coordinate witness schedules for evidentiary motions, and wait for a briefing schedule. And major felony cases at the trial level take some time as we try to negotiate pre-indictment settlements or as we get through lengthy and complex motions. When the case is all over, it is important to be deliberated about how the file is closed and here are some things we do in our office at the end of the case.

  • First, we think about whether the case is actually over. There can often be loose ends that need to be tied. If we were successful in the appeal, for instance, there is a whole process involved in getting the client brought back from the prison system and getting the case transitioned back over to a pre-trial posture. This time can be perfect for working out the case. And decisions need to be made regarding the client’s representation if there will be a second trial. The case is not over until it is closed in the court system or until it is handed off to new counsel. If we have been successful in getting a person off of a registry, it can be important to get all of the necessary paperwork forwarded to the agency that is responsible for maintaining it. There can be more steps than one might imagine in ending a case.
  • We send a letter to the client and the client’s family reinforcing that the case is over, explaining what we did, and inviting questions about the process and the conclusion. It can be important to clarify that the case is at its end in writing. And often this letter can prompt further questions. I always encourage the client to keep in touch as there may be things down the road where I can be of assistance.
  • I send thank you notes. If any person helped in the case, whether that was an expert, an attorney who answered a question, a person at a government agency who helped me with something, or lay witnesses who provided letters, thank you notes are great to let people know how they helped. And expressions of gratitude are good for the person writing the thank you note. I will also send a thank you note to the person who referred the case to me way back at the beginning. When you refer a case, it is nice to hear how things worked out.
  • If there are things that were not scanned, we get them scanned in. Then we make the paper file available for the client to pick up. One day, I hope that storage buildings as repositories of for closed files will be a thing of the past.
  • If any of the motions in our case can serve as a form for future cases, we move a Word version over into our form bank. And if we think that any of the cases we found throughout the course of the case will be helpful for future research, we move those over into our topical research bank.
  • We close the file in Rocketmatter. And we move the file to an external hard drive and off of our active data system.

We are constantly working on our systems in the office. A consistent closing system is instrumental to a practice’s success. And it provides a helpful moment to reflect on all of the people who come together for us to give a case our very best effort. Closing is as important as opening, and we work to close things out in a thoughtful and deliberate way.