U.S. Supreme Court

Lawyer sells secret SCOTUS style manual for $29.95

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A lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission who made a copy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s private style manual is selling the publication online for $29.95.

The manual is intended as an internal document for law clerks and justices, according to the National Law Journal’s Supreme Court Brief (sub. req.). Copies are numbered before they are given out, probably to prevent wider distribution.

So how did FTC lawyer Jack Metzler get a copy? It wasn’t from a confidential source, he tells Supreme Court Brief. Instead, he photocopied a 2013 version of the manual that he got from the Supreme Court library, which he is allowed to visit as a member of the Supreme Court bar.

Metzler is selling the style guide at an Amazon website. His intention, he told Supreme Court Brief, is to “lift a small corner of the curtain” of secrecy at the court.

Metzler said he didn’t just post a free copy online because he was “interested in having fun and doing a project. Posting a PDF doesn’t do that for me.”

The style manual addresses how to use words such as “supra” and “ibid,” how to cite foreign names in decision titles, whether citations should be in footnotes, and when to use “vacate” or “reverse.”

The court’s use of “vacate” or “reverse” has led to “a long-simmering debate among court geeks” about why the court chooses one term or the other, according to the article. Here is what the style manual says:

“The rule of thumb applied by the Office of the Clerk of the Court is easy to state, but may be difficult to apply in particular instances: This Court should reverse if it deems the judgment below to be absolutely wrong, but vacate if the judgment is less than absolutely wrong. Questions in difficult cases should be directed to the Chief Deputy Clerk.”

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