What Are Legal Briefs?
Briefs are the written documents in which the attorneys in a case present their legal arguments to the court. When one researches a case, it is sometimes instructive to examine the written briefs that were filed by the parties, as well as the arguments presented orally to the court after the briefs were filed. Doing so can sometimes help one to better understand the reasoning behind the court's decision in the case, as well as the arguments on both sides of the issues before the court. This guide provides information on how to find both briefs and oral arguments in United States Supreme Court cases.
How Are Legal Briefs and Petitions Filed?
Briefs and other types of documents are filed with the U.S. Supreme Court at various stages in the appellate process. When a party first seeks review from the Court, it files a "petition for a writ of certiorari" in which the party states the facts of the case, the legal question(s) in the case, and the arguments as to why the Court should hear the case. At that time, the case will be assigned a unique docket number (e.g., 07-5439). The opposing party has the opportunity to respond to the petition by filing a "brief in opposition," stating why the Court should deny the petition. The petitioner can then file a "reply brief" to respond to new points raised in the opposition brief.
If the Court decides to hear a particular case (i.e., "grants certiorari"), the parties will argue the merits before the Court, first by filing "merit briefs" and then through oral argument. Additionally, outside parties who have a strong interest in the subject matter of the case can seek permission from the Court to file their own briefs on the merits; these are called "amicus curiae" (friend of the court) briefs.
Supreme Court Terms
Many of the sources discussed in this guide organize briefs by Supreme Court term. Each Court term is one year and begins on the first Monday in October. Thus, the October 1997 term ran from Monday, October 6, 1997 through Sunday, October 4, 1998. The first part of a case's docket number indicates the term in which the case was filed (e.g., the case assigned the number 06-245 was filed in the Court's 2006 term).