Amicus Briefs Examined

Mar 26, 2012
Originally published on March 26, 2012 3:35 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, this is a court case with an uncommon number of friends. Bloomberg News counts some 136 parties who have friended the Supreme Court, in this case, with amicus briefs.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

That's from the Latin amici curiae - literally, friends of the court. The high court doesn't release formal numbers, but it's believed this case sets a record, topping the total of 102 amicus briefs filed in the university affirmative action case back in 2003.

SIEGEL: So what is an amicus brief?

KANNON SHANMUGAM: It describes briefs that are filed by entities or individuals who are not parties to the actual litigation.

SIEGEL: That's Kannon Shanmugam, a partner focusing on Supreme Court and appellate litigation at the D.C. law firm Williams & Connelly. He says the effect of amicus briefs varies but...

SHANMUGAM: I do think that in a case like this, often amici can bring a perspective that the parties themselves do not. They present the arguments somewhat differently from the primary parties to the case.

BLOCK: The AARP filed an amicus brief, as did Senator Rand Paul and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

SIEGEL: Also offering their friendship in this case, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the libertarian Cato Institute and the Montana Shooting Sports Association.

BLOCK: In fact, Shanmugam says anyone can file an amicus brief.

SHANMUGAM: And in that sense, I think it's rather like an open-mic night at a club: anybody who wants to perform can come and do so.

BLOCK: If you have a lawyer, you too can be a friend of the court, but that doesn't mean the justices will like you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.