Depressing fact of the day: The Fourth Circuit hears oral argument in about 9% of the roughly 5,000 cases it considers each year.

For context, here’s the 2012 acceptance rate of each Ivy League school, according to Google:

  • Harvard: 5.9%
  • Yale: 6.8%
  • Columbia: 7.4%
  • Princeton: 8.5%
  • Brown: 9%
  • Dartmouth: 9.8%
  • Penn: 12.3%
  • Cornell: 16.2%

So basically, the chance of the Fourth Circuit granting oral argument in any given case is about as good as the chance of a mid-tier Ivy granting admission to any given applicant. Only the very best, cream-of-the-crop cases evidently merit that consideration.

But what does that mean? What metric does the court employ to decide which cases warrant argument?

Deena Jo Schneider has a terrific article in the current Appellate Issues that sheds some light on these questions.


Continue Reading Behind the Scenes at the Fourth Circuit: How the Court Decides Whether to Award Oral Argument

I’m pretty sure that written discovery is the worst part of being a trial lawyer. I know for a fact that jurisdictional deadlines are the worst part of being an appellate lawyer.

But just in case you needed further convincing, the Fourth Circuit–as reasonable and user-friendly an appellate court as you will find–just dropped an

Justice Keenan, who has been nominated for a seat on the 4th Circuit, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. Our friends at The VLW Blog report that the entire nomination hearing will be webcast.

Yesterday, Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly reported that eight candidates have alerted the Virginia State

The Fourth Circuit hands down a new First Amendment decision today in Snyder v. Phelps

Snyder is an important case for more than purely doctrinal reasons. It involves the  Westboro Baptist Church, a group noted their quaint habit of proselytizing at funerals. The Church sports a website whose address is literally so offensive that I can’t spell it out here, what with this being a family blog. Charming folks, and they seem to have caught the public’s attention. As a result of their activities, about 40 states and the federal government have adopted legislation addressing the picketing of funerals.

Facts

The facts of the case are pretty staggering. Westboro Baptist Church protested the funeral of Matthew Snyder, an enlisted Marine who died in the line of duty in Iraq. The Church showed up at his funeral (at a Catholic church) bearing signs saying things like “Pope in hell, “Thank God for IEDs,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” The Church also saw fit to post on its website an “epic,” a written piece further trumpeting its, err, message.

Snyder’s father sued, alleging five state-law tort claims: defamation, intrusion upon seclusion, publicity given to private life, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy. A jury found the defendants liable for $2.9 million in compensatory damages and a boatload of punitives, which were remitted to $2.1 million. The defendants appealed.


Continue Reading Snyder v. Phelps: New First Amendment Opinion from the Fourth Circuit