Amicus Briefs Examined

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The Supreme Court has received more than 100 amicus briefs in the health care cases. Melissa Block and Robert Siegel explain what they are, what's involved and what impact they have.


Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, this is a court case with an uncommon number of friends. Bloomberg News counts some 136 parties who have friended the Supreme Court, in this case, with amicus briefs.


That's from the Latin amici curiae - literally, friends of the court. The high court doesn't release formal numbers, but it's believed this case sets a record, topping the total of 102 amicus briefs filed in the university affirmative action case back in 2003.

SIEGEL: So what is an amicus brief?

KANNON SHANMUGAM: It describes briefs that are filed by entities or individuals who are not parties to the actual litigation.

SIEGEL: That's Kannon Shanmugam, a partner focusing on Supreme Court and appellate litigation at the D.C. law firm Williams & Connelly. He says the effect of amicus briefs varies but...

SHANMUGAM: I do think that in a case like this, often amici can bring a perspective that the parties themselves do not. They present the arguments somewhat differently from the primary parties to the case.

BLOCK: The AARP filed an amicus brief, as did Senator Rand Paul and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

SIEGEL: Also offering their friendship in this case, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the libertarian Cato Institute and the Montana Shooting Sports Association.

BLOCK: In fact, Shanmugam says anyone can file an amicus brief.

SHANMUGAM: And in that sense, I think it's rather like an open-mic night at a club: anybody who wants to perform can come and do so.

BLOCK: If you have a lawyer, you too can be a friend of the court, but that doesn't mean the justices will like you.

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