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Justice Thomas goes rogue on the Bluebook with ‘cleaned up’ quotation—to the delight of appellate attorneys


Legal Writing

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas went rogue on the Bluebook when he embraced an appellate lawyer’s suggestion for coping with “citation baggage” that comes with some quoted thing.

Jack Metzler, an appellate lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission, outlined the issue in an article at SSRN in March 2017. When courtroom choices and briefs quote from an earlier supply, and the sooner supply generally quotes a fair earlier supply, the Bluebook guidelines make for lots of “citation baggage” that distracts from the purpose.

“Following the Bluebook in those situations can result in a confusing mess of nested quotation marks, brackets and parenthetical information that distracts from the writer’s point in using the quotation—to convey what the court being quoted actually said,” Metzler defined in an electronic mail to the ABA Journal. “I proposed that writers could use a single parenthetical—(cleaned up)—to signal that extraneous material was removed from the quotation without changing any of the underlying text.”

Thomas adopted Metzler’s resolution in his Feb. 25 decision in Brownback v. King, including the phrases “cleaned up” in parentheses after a sentence quoting from an earlier determination, Law360 reported. The article described the event as a “mini-revolution in legal citation.”

The improvement resonated with appellate attorneys.

“When I tweeted about Justice Thomas using it, that was like my biggest tweet ever,” Metzler instructed the ABA Journal. “Between that and a couple more, I had more than a million impressions on Twitter.”

Metzler mentioned the entire concept began with a tweet.

“When the response to that first tweet was so enthusiastic, it occurred to me that people might actually be willing to use it,” he mentioned within the electronic mail. “So I wrote a brief paper encouraging folks to undertake (cleaned up) and stored tweeting in regards to the concept. Within just a few days, folks began utilizing (cleaned up) of their briefs, in lots of instances pointing to my article to clarify what the brand new parenthetical meant.

“Within a month, it showed up in a court decision for the first time. Then it spread to a few more courts, and then to a lot more courts,” he added.

By the time Thomas used the cleaned-up wording, it had appeared in about 5,000 judicial opinions. All the federal courts of appeals have now adopted the time period, as have about three-fourths of all federal district courts, Metzler mentioned.

Metzler responded this fashion when the ABA Journal requested whether or not Thomas’ use of the wording was a giant deal: “I think it is, at least in the world of legal citation. Lawyers are both resistant to change and risk-averse, especially when it comes to the minutiae of citations. Yet (cleaned up) went from an idea in a tweet to a unanimous Supreme Court opinion in less than four years.”

Related protection:

The Volokh Conspiracy: “New Twist on Legal Citations: The “(Cleaned Up)” Parenthetical”

The Appellate Advocacy Blog: “(Cleaned Up) Citations”


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