The Washington Post

Judicial opinions can be fun!

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft stands before the Spirit of Justice statue at the Justice Department. (AP Photo/ Joe Marquette) Former Attorney General John Ashcroft stands before the Spirit of Justice statue at the Justice Department. (AP Photo/ Joe Marquette)

Appellate court decisions — and we’ve read far too many —  are usually dreadful affairs. The subject matter is often arcane and the authors tend to be, well, judges.

There are exceptions, such as this gem of a lead Tuesday by Judge Raymond Kethledge, who sits on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, headquartered in Cincinnati. The opinion was spotted by Howard Bashman, a Philadelphia appellate lawyer who writes the blog “How Appealing,” which he calls “the Web’s first blog devoted to appellate litigation.”

“There are good reasons,” Kethledge begins, “not to call an opponent’s argument ‘ridiculous,’ which is what State Farm calls Barbara Bennett’s principal argument here.

“The reasons include civility; the near-certainty that overstatement will only push the reader away (especially when, as here, the hyperbole begins on page one of the brief); and that, even where the record supports an extreme modifier, ‘the better practice is usually to lay out the facts and let the court reach its own conclusions,'” he writes, citing a topless bar-free speech case called “Big Dipper Entm’t, L.L.C. v. City of Warren, 641 F.3d 715, 719 (6th Cir. 2011).

“But here,” he writes, “the biggest reason is more simple: the argument that State Farm derides as ridiculous is instead correct.”

Maybe not Scalia-esque, but pretty good.

 

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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