Case Briefs 

This section of the WebPage is divided into three parts:

  • Introduction to Case Briefs
  • How to Construct a Brief
  • A Sample Case Brief


    Each brief should be neatly typed, in 12 point font, with 1-inch margins on all sides, and free of typographical errors.  An average brief will be 11/2 to 2 pages in length.

    As lawyers and laypeople alike know, court opinions are often dense, complex, meandering, and even tedious pieces of literature. As a result, a simple perusal of an opinion may leave the reader a little befuddled and thus unable to recollect any important points. Because of the difficult nature of court opinions, it is helpful to brief a case. Briefing (or, to use more common terminology, outlining) allows the analyst to cull out the important components of a case, thus aiding understanding and recall.

    There is really no one correct way to brief a case. However, certain elements (discussed below) should be present in any successful brief. Remember to brief cases BEFORE they are to be discussed in class and to brief ALL assigned cases. Case briefs aren't easy, but with practice you will get the hang of them.

    If you need help, don't hesitate to ask Dr. McIntosh or Mr. Evans.

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    There are ten (10) parts to the case brief. Each part is distinct within itself. Please brief case information in the order shown below:

    1. Case name, number, and date
    2. Parties
    3. Legal Proceedings
    4. Facts
    5. Legal Provisions
    6. Issue(s)
    7. Decision
    8. Rule of the Case
    9. Reasons
    10. Concurring & Dissenting Opinions

    CASE NAME, NUMBER, & DATE is simply the name of the case (e.g. Texas v. Johnson); the case number is the case's citation (491 U.S. 397); and the date is the date decided. You should also report the appropriate jurisdiction and the correct level of the deciding court.

     PARTIES are the individuals involved in the case. Who is suing whom? Who is the petitioner or appellant? Who is the respondent or appellee? In other words, identify the parties (by proper name, by a short description and by status on appeal).

    LEGAL PROCEEDINGS encompass what kind of case this is (civil or criminal). What remedy is being sought? What did the trial court decide? If the case was heard by a lower appellate court, what did that court decide?  You should indicate which party initiated the legal action and what decisions have been made leading up to the current case. In other words, what was the history of the case prior to the one at hand?

    Convey the FACTS of the case. What are they? Are they in dispute? If so, what is in dispute?

    Identify the LEGAL PROVISIONS involved in the case. What law(s) were violated? What is (if applicable) unconstitutional? Why? What rules of law are applicable?  What are the precise legal claims that each party is making?

    ISSUE is the fundamental legal question the case raises. What issue (or question) is presented for decision? It should be kept general, but be precise.

    What was the DECISION of the case?  Who won?

    The RULE OF THE CASE is the GENERAL legal principle the case sets down that can be applied to other cases.

    REASONS will probably be your longest section. State the rationale for the decision made. How does the court justify its decision? What arguments did the appellant and appellee raise? How did the court handle them? Also, state who authored the majority opinion. Moreover, include major precedents cited (doctrinal criteria), founding intent, textual references, structural rationales, and/or social values.

    Be sure to discuss CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINIONS. If the opinion is given, provide a summary of what the opinion is arguing. If it is omitted from the text, state that there is an opinion, but it was omitted in the textbook.

    This is a general explanation about how to brief a case. Please keep in mind that all of the above statements/questions may not be applicable in every case. Dr. McIntosh will discuss briefs more in class. Briefs take PRACTICE -- the more you do, the better you'll become at doing them.

    The sample brief below illustrates what a brief should look like.


    SECTION THREE: SAMPLE CASE BRIEF                                           Top of Page

    Students of GVPT 439A v. McIntosh
    0 U.S. 0 2004

    A group of University of Maryland college students (appellants) filed suit against their instructor, McIntosh (appellee).

    This is a civil case. Appellants are seeking relief in the form of revised grades and positive law school evaluations. The courts below issued conflicting rulings. The U.S. District Court (MD) ruled in favor of the appellants, but refused to reach the constitutional issue. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed the District Court, ruling that appellee McIntosh was endowed with special rights that outweighed the First Amendment rights of petitioner students. The students appealed, and the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

    The facts apparently are not in dispute. Students were asked to read and discuss several Court cases over two class periods. They refused, instead engaging in a dialogue over some unrelated political/legal phenomena. McIntosh subsequently issued failing grades for the entire class and refused to write any professional letters of reference.

    The students claim that McIntosh abridged their First Amendment right to engage in meaningful dissent and to discuss political issues of their own choosing. McIntosh counter-claims that the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, as applied to him, outweigh the students' speech rights. In addition, he argues that the weight of locational analysis in the Court's First Amendment jurisprudence is in his favor -- classroom restrictions on speech are entirely reasonable time, place and manner limitations.  A literal reading of the amendment's language would also mean that free speech is not relevant to a university classroom unless it involves an act of Congress.  Finally, McIntosh cites a recently discovered (an never published) Federalist paper (#86), allegedly authored by James Madison, that addresses specifically the question of classroom speech, concluding that university instructors should be considered unquestioned masters of their respective houses.

    To what extent may a government-employed educator prevent students from speaking about issues unrelated to the subject matter of a particular course?

    Affirming the Appellate Court ruling, the Supreme Court (8-1) ruled in favor of appellee McIntosh.

    On the matter at issue, the Court, citing Pontifical v. Twenty Unnamed Graduating Seniors (450 US 29, 2000), ruled that students' speech may be restricted to the content of a course. The Court, however, took the opportunity of this case to go considerably further. It ruled, in essence, that the Supreme Court may restrict and even coerce speech and that only Congress is subject to the limitations of the First Amendment. In so doing, the Court has, apparently, in one fell swoop, overturned most of its First and Fourteenth Amendment precedents.

    Chief Justice Katz wrote for the majority. Though somewhat vague, the Court seems to rely on several sources of rationale for its decision. Toward the specific issue of the case, classroom speech, the court relies on precedent suggesting that student speech may be restricted, as censorship by an instructor constitutes a reasonable time, place and manner restriction. On the broader matter, the Court's new sweeping powers under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the justices appear to hinge their decision on the following: First, a statement attributed to Chief Justice Katz, "The Constitution is what the judges say it is," which suggests broad interpretive powers for the Supreme Court. Second, the Court employs a strict textual construction of the First Amendment which mentions only a limitation on Congress. Finally, in its reference to the mysterious Federalist 86, the Court appears to place some reliance on the original intent of the framers.

    There were no concurrences. Dissenter Evans seemed somewhat confused.


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