Separating Amicus Wheat from Chaff
Citation: 106 Geo L.J. Online (2018)
The number of amicus briefs filed in the United States Supreme Court has been growing. Cases with thirty or more amicus briefs are no longer particularly rare, and the highest-profile cases attract more than one hundred amicus submissions. Amicus briefs can provide valuable information to the Court, but the large and growing volume of amicus filings threatens the Court with a form of information overload in which the most valuable contributions get lost in an avalanche of largely overlapping submissions. The Court, and people who follow the Court’s activities, would benefit from having a way to identify and prioritize the briefs that are most likely to deserve careful attention. In this Essay, we use plagiarism-detection software as a tool to identify the amicus briefs that contribute the greatest amount of non-duplicative information. We illustrate this technique by applying it to a dataset of several hundred briefs filed in the highest-profile cases of the most recent Supreme Court terms. Our method of ranking briefs according to their distinctive content is not meant to replace other ways of quickly assessing a brief’s likely value (such as relying on the reputation of the filing entity and its attorney), but our ranking provides helpful, objective information that can be used by judges, law clerks, and anyone else who wants to make the best use of their limited reading time.