Supreme Court Justices on Writing Opinions, the Role of Law Clerks, and Effective Advocacy:
Over at LawProse.Org, Bryan Garner has posted a remarkable set of extended interviews with eight of the nine current Supreme Court Justices (all but Souter) about legal writing, advocacy, and the process of deciding cases and writing opinions. The interviews are one-on-one, and each ranges from 30 minutes to over an hour. Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Thomas were interviewed in their chambers, and the rest appear to be in either the Lawyer's Lounge or the SG's room in the Court building. Garner conducted the interviews in 2006-07, although I don't know when he posted the files.

  For Supreme Court geeks, these interviews are a gold mine. The Justices discuss a wide range of topics including how they write opinions; the role of law clerks; tips for effective advocacy; what they look for in cert petitions; whether specialists or generalists are better advocates; what parts of briefs they read first; the differences between being a lower court judge and a Supreme Court Justice; and which Justices — and in some cases, which professors — they think are the best writers. Each discussion is tailored to the specific Justice. For example, much of the Roberts interview focuses on how he approached written and oral advocacy as a lawyer before he became a judge. (Tremendously valuable advice, I thought.)

  Anyway, it's all super cool stuff. Thanks to Roy Englert for the link.

  UPDATE: Those watching using Windows should right-click on the image, click "zoom," and then click "full screen". That brings the video to full size.
Happylee (mail):
Warning: you will lose lotsa billable hours on this one.
2.28.2008 12:58pm
This is fantastic!
2.28.2008 1:19pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Downloading it all now. I'll try and combine it into a single movie. Dunno where I will post it though.
2.28.2008 1:33pm
If only there were some website devoted entirely to user-submitted video.
2.28.2008 1:39pm
Cornellian (mail):
Try to get it in an ipod friendly format.
2.28.2008 1:55pm
These are a real treat. Thanks!
2.28.2008 2:05pm
Stuart Buck (mail) (www):
My favorite part so far is from the first Thomas interview:

Q: What's going through your mind when a question is asked at oral argument, and then you start getting words and words and words, but you don't know "yes" or "no."

A: You mean from my colleagues or from the . . .

After some hearty laughter over who is speaking the "words and words and words, Thomas explains:

"I feel my sympathies are with the poor advocates . . . I am very sympathetic to the advocates. I think we ask too many questions. I think that we have a chance to have back and forth about these things, and I think they have 30 minutes."
2.28.2008 3:01pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
You may not be aware that youtube is limited to 10 minutes of video unless you get a special director account. The shortest of these mini-films is about 12 minutes long. Total running length looks to be nearly 8 hours.

I would use but they are going out of business.
2.28.2008 3:19pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
The video quality is not very good. Sound glitches and missing reference frames. I thought it was a codec problem but WMP and VLC both have identical problems.

I am attempting to clean it up and convert it to xvid/mp3. I'll splice together all the parts for each justice when I get back from campus this evening. I'll also add in a few seconds of acknowledgment and a notice of the educational use only restrictions, as required by the author's grant of license.
2.28.2008 3:23pm
Sounds great, Jim.
2.28.2008 3:37pm
Alex Blackwell (mail):
I read VC for nuggets of gold like this post. Thanks for the link to the videos, Orin.

Of course, the Scalia interview is the first one I jumped to (or to which I jumped?) :-)
2.28.2008 4:05pm
Redlands (mail):
Priceless. Thanks for posting it.
2.28.2008 5:54pm
Thanks Jim, I appreciate it.
2.28.2008 5:54pm
Jacob Berlove:
Thanks Orin.

BTW, I now have basically confirmed what I thought all along. Way back when JCG was interviewed by Scotusblog about bher book, I asked her which one of the Justices she didn't interview, given that she said she had interviewed all the sitting justices but one. She claimed that it would breach her confidentiality agreement to identify which justice she didn't interview, but reading her book left the ditinct impression that it was Souter who wouldn't agree to the grant. I have no doubt about that now.
2.28.2008 7:13pm
Sean M:
I appreciate the link, and I've spent the evening on it. I am sort of annoyed that Bryan Garner is focused on his own agenda (about footnotes, for instance) and ends up tossing some softballs -- "Do you think that lawyers have a professional obligation to improve their writing?" (What is someone going to say? "No"?)

But it was great to hear it all. It's amazing how much the justices agree when it comes to writing. Draft. Draft. And draft again.
2.28.2008 8:23pm
Yes, some of Bryan Garner's views are eccentric. I couldn't disagree more with him about footnotes: Footnotes are incredibly distracting, and they are much less often read than maintext. Plus, the point of a citation is to let the reader look up the authority if he isn't sure about the statement of law. Given that, I can't imagine why you would try to hide this information in a footnote. (Why would you hide the thing that makes your argument sound?) I liked Thomas's reaction to Garner's inquiries about footnotes -- he came awfully close to saying that he just doesn't read footnotes.
2.28.2008 9:19pm
Anderson (mail):
Footnotes are incredibly distracting, and they are much less often read than maintext.

I can't resist using footnotes, it's a character flaw of mine. I love reading works with footnotes. (Endnotes, now, THOSE annoy me.)

But as a lawyer, I try to keep 'em few, and I never put anything in a footnote that's important to my argument. (So if it's not important, why say it at all? That is indeed the problem.)

Garner's problem on citations is that he forgets that any proposition is only as good as the law supporting it.

Coming to law from philosophy, the whole argumentative process struck me as medieval: you can't say anything unless Aristotle a prior court said it. But that's how it works, and that's why citations can't be shunted off. They are what makes the law "the law" and not just someone's clever, persuasive, but nonbinding idea.
2.29.2008 9:11am
Anderson (mail):
Btw, National Grammar Day was yesterday, so back off my last comment, syntax jackals!
2.29.2008 9:13am
Man, this one has been fantastic. My favorite quote so far (taken out of context, of course) is from Justice Kennedy:

"If I read [the Constitution], I'll get through the first couple pages and I'll say, "Now, I've never seen that before-- now, this is really interesting!"
2.29.2008 7:31pm
Redlands (mail):
J. Thomas was very complimentary of CJ Roberts as an appellate advocate. And listening to the CJ describe the way he prepared leads me to trust J. Thomas's opinion. Is there a source anyone can point me to that would contain, at least, audio recordings of some of CJ Roberts's oral arguments?
2.29.2008 10:20pm
advisory opinion:
Try Oyez.

Roberts was the best interview. Very insightful.

Justice Thomas mentions a certain Ukrainian-born clerk who had to learn English in the 10th grade . . .
3.1.2008 4:17am

I've found two such recordings:


They can be downloaded in mp3 format as well.
3.1.2008 9:09am
Redlands (mail):
Felix, gracias.
3.3.2008 10:39pm