The Georgetown Law Journal Online

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.

In popular and political culture, many observers credit nearly twenty-five years of declining crime rates to the “New Policing.” Breaking with a past tradition of “reactive policing,” the New Policing emphasizes advanced statistical metrics, new forms of organizational accountability, and aggressive tactical enforcement of minor crimes. The existing research and scholarship on these developments have focused mostly on the nation’s major cities, where concentrated populations and elevated crime rates provide pressurized laboratories for police experimentation, often in the spotlight of political scrutiny. An additional line of scholarship has looked more closely at how the tactics of the New Policing have become institutionalized in police–citizen interactions in the everyday lives of residents of poorer, often minority, and higher-crime areas of the nation’s cities.

Supreme Court confirmation hearings are vapid. Supreme Court confirmation hearings are pointless. Supreme Court confirmation hearings are harmful to a citizenry already cynical about government. Sentiments like these have been around for decades and are bound to resurface each time a new nomination is made. This essay, however, takes a different view. It argues that Supreme Court confirmation hearings are a valuable form of cultural expression, one that provides a unique record of, as the theater critic Martin Esslin might say, a nation thinking about itself in public.

A gun wielded by a marching white supremacist leads a complicated double life, for it is at once deadly and expressive. Displayed in the context of the August 2017 marches in Charlottesville, the protesters’ firearms expressed something—something too diffuse to call a proposition but still recognizable as a cluster of themes and ideologies: anger, suspicion of the government, white supremacy, a fear of being replaced, admiration of the Confederacy, “sic semper tyrannis,” nativism, and other associated emotions and ideas. In Charlottesville, these and other strands of meaning came together in the glint of muzzles in the mid-morning sun.

More than any other promised police reform, the public would benefit from the government adopting an “open data” philosophy towards police accountability data. “Open data” in the context of public policy is the philosophy that when the government “provides people access to its process, decision-making, and data,” a “more effective ecosystem for innovation and development” results. Body cameras have been introduced across the country as the manifestation of transparent policing meant to restore the public’s trust in police following multiple murders of unarmed young men and women of color nationwide. However, as Professor Simonson writes in her essay, “Beyond the Body Camera: Defending a Robust Right to Record the Police,” the body camera footage is created, stored, organized, and distributed by governmental agencies that continue controlling the narrative about police conduct. In this article, I elaborate on Professor Simonson’s observation about governmental control over the narrative. I also discuss diverging approaches to public access to body camera footage from Seattle, which has embraced an “open data” model, to Minnesota, where restrictions on public access to police data are being introduced for the first time through legislative regulations. On a more optimistic note, I will also discuss non-governmental efforts to subvert that control by cataloging and reporting on police accountability data. The seriousness and wealth of the information collected and shared through these efforts stands in sharp contrast to the dearth of police accountability data being disseminated by the government.