Judgepedia:Writing about state judicial rulings
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- A specific court opinion, decision or ruling. Examples include:
- J.F. v. D.B., 2007
- Thomas v. Mallet, 2005
- An ongoing lawsuit that hasn't been resolved yet.
The reason for this article is to give you some guidance on how to go about writing and editing this type of article.
Generally, it makes it easiest for the eventual readers of your article if you cover some very basic information about the lawsuit or judicial ruling your article will be about in the first several sentences.
Basic questions to answer include:
- When was the ruling handed down or the opinion issued and by whom?
- Who was the plaintiff and who was the defendant?
- The outcome of the suit.
- A description of the legal issue at stake, context of the ruling and why it is notable or interesting.
A case analysis allows the reader to form well-grounded views on the judicial philosophies of the judges who write them. The spirit that motivates writing case analyses is that of William Howard Taft, the tenth chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He said, "Nothing tends more to render judges careful in their decision and anxiously solicitous to do exact justice than the consciousness that every act of theirs is to be subject to the intelligent scrutiny of their fellow men, and to their candid criticism."
In writing a case analysis or contributing to an existing case analysis, the objective of the editor or contributor should be to create a comprehensive, fair, readable overview of the particular judicial ruling at hand.
Areas of the law
Writers and editors at Judgepedia have focused on several areas of the law for writing case analysis. It is important to note that not every judge has an opportunity to issue an opinion on every are of the law we've highlighted.
- Contract enforcement
- Criminal justice
- Discrimination and equal protection
- Election law
- Employer and employee rights
- Government accountability
- Personal responsibility
- Property rights
- Tax increment financing
Format for case analysis version 1.0
In the early stages of page creation, there was a consistent format for writing case analysis on Judgepedia. The disadvantage of this format is that it can become exceedingly long, and only indirectly inform the reader why the case is important and what the specific judge's contribution to the case might be. Specifically, the case of State v. Lowe (2007) makes no mention of Justice Stratton, although she signed on to the majority opinion.
Format for case analysis
Since the objective with case analysis is to provide a clear insight into a judge's philosophy for readers at Judgepedia, our writers and editors have adopted a general format for case analysis.
- Case Name: Listed first, in bold.
- Issue: This section describes in a few sentences describe the issue at hand in the case.
- Factual and Procedural History: This section describes the facts of the case and how the lower courts ruled.
- Example: Defendant was charged with the second degree felony offense of possession of a controlled substance. Before trial, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence contending that the tactical team's no-knock entry to the house was unreasonable, which the trial judge denied. However, a majority of the court of appeals reversed the trial judge's decision, and the State filed a petition for discretionary review.
- Governing Rule: This section will briefly state the main rule that is relied upon by the court in deciding the "Issue" state above.
- Example: If the owner or operator of any motor vehicle that causes bodily injury or property damage to the insured is unknown, actual physical contact must have occurred between the motor vehicle owned or operated by the unknown person and the person or property of the insured.
- Summary/Analysis: This section describes how the judge ruled on the case in question, the ruling of the court, and the reasoning of the court.
- Example: Justice Wainwright, over the dissents of Justices O'Neill and Medina, ruled that an insurance company was not required to pay an uninsured motorist claim because an axle-wheel assembly separated from an unidentified semi-trailer does not constitute a "motor vehicle," and therefore, does not fall within the terms of the policy and the Texas Insurance Code. The Court held: (1) motor vehicles are self-propelled (2) the collision does not involve a legally recognized substitute for the statute's actual physical contact requirement (3) adopting an integral part test to determine whether actual physical contact occurred would be inconsistent with the test established by the legislature and would be unmanageable
- Quotes from the majority opinion: This section contains quotes that explain ideas and concepts stated in the summary/analysis section.
- Quotes from the dissenting opinion: This section contains quotes that explain ideas and concepts stated in the dissent's opinion.
A comment on case analysis
A wiki article might be accurate, insightful and valuable, but if it's not accessible to people - in particular, written in conversational English - then no one will ever read it. It's like baking the world's greatest cake and then serving it off the floor of a public restroom: no one is going to touch it.
Because we have different types of users, we've experimented with different means of case analysis. For legal users of Judgepedia, we encourage you to what is described above. It's a workable structure to keep the site's work in a fairly consistent format. However, most users are voters who just want a simple, readable insight into the judicial philosophy of a particular judge. You'll see some case analysis performed on Judgepedia that follows a more narrative and conversational model, which is preferred. Examples of this include Robinson v. City of Detroit (2000), County of Wayne v. Edward Hathcock (2004) and Phillips v. Mirac, Inc. (2004).
Remember What is Important
Excluding case specific substance and including what you’re trying to express to your reader is far from scientific, but it is essential to highlighting how a particular judge votes on particular issues. Without this distinction, a reader may struggle to find, and may ultimately not find, the issue you intended to highlight when you originally wrote the summary. With that said, a summary still needs to have enough context and substance to provide a reader the necessary foundation to understand your case summary.
A good case summary includes the essential facts, highlights the governing rule relied upon by the courts, excludes procedural and case specific ruling by the court, and utilizes the quotation section to fully articulate ideas expressed in the summary. While drafting any summary, the following questions should be asked during the writing process:
(1) What issue am I trying to articulate to my reader?
(2) Have I given enough context in my summary?
(3) Have I given too much context?
(4) Have I excluded legal issues that are not necessary in articulating the issue I have chosen?
(5) Have I used the quotation section as a tool to explain the concepts and ideas I expressed in my summary?