Case briefs can be long or short, depending on the depth of analysis required and the complexity of the case. A comprehensive case brief must include ALL of the following elements: 1. Case Title & Citation 2. Relevant Case Facts 3. Procedural History 4. Issue(s) 5. Holding (decision) 6. Reasoning (analysis) includes rule(s) of law 7. Dissent(s)/Concurrence(s) … if any. For example, all relevant facts must be included in the Relevant Case Facts section, not just a few random facts. If a case has more than one issue you MUST address every issue. Example: 3 issue must have three holdings and three reasonings.
Cases are –
Horton v Goose Creek Independent School District, 693 F.2d 524, 1982
Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 1969
Magabgab v Orleans Parish School Board, 239 So.2d 456, 1970
Scheelhasse v Woodbury Central School District, 488 F.2d 237, 1981
How To Brief a Case
Student Case Briefs
A student case brief is a short summary and analysis of a case that was assigned in a reading assignment, usually from a casebook. It is a set of review notes, presented in a systematic way, to sort out the parties, identify case issues, pinpoint the decision (the “holding”), and analyze the reasoning behind decisions written by the courts.
Although student case briefs always include the same items of information, the format in which these items are set out can vary. The format that you will use in any/all of my courses is set out in detail below.
Student case briefs can be long or short, depending on the depth of analysis required and the complexity of the case. A comprehensive case brief must include ALL of the following elements:
- Case Title & Citation
- Relevant Case Facts
- Procedural History
- Holding (decision)
- Reasoning (analysis) includes rule(s) of law
- Dissent(s)/Concurrence(s) … if any.
Title and Citation (The Caption)
The title of the case shows who is opposing whom. The name of the person who initiated legal action will always appear first. Since the losers often appeal to a higher court, this can get confusing.
Relevant Case Facts
A good student case brief must include a summary of the relevant facts. The facts are often summarized at the beginning of a court’s published opinion. Do not just copy all of the case facts into your brief. Summarize (… it is called a “brief” for a reason). Pinpoint the relevant facts of a case (those that make a difference in the outcome). Your goal here is to be able to tell the story of the case without missing any important information. But you must also not include too many extraneous facts either. It takes practice to pick out relevant facts.
Outline what has happened procedurally in the case up until the present time (the time of appeal). The dates and outcomes of court rulings, trials, and verdicts or judgments should be noted. *** You can’t get this information on web briefs (ha ha) … you must read the entire case.
The issues (aka questions of law) raised by the facts to the case are often stated explicitly by the court in written opinions. Constitutional cases frequently involve multiple issues, some of interest only to litigants and lawyers, others of broader and enduring significant to citizens in general.
When noting issues, it may help to phrase them in terms of questions that can be answered with a precise “yes” or “no.”
For example, in Brown v. Board of Education the issue involved the applicability of a provision of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to a school board’s practice of excluding black pupils from certain public schools solely due to their race. The precise wording of the Amendment is “no state shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The key issue (to the above) would be:
“Does the exclusion of students from a public school solely on the basis of race amount to a denial of ‘equal protection of the laws’?”
- Holding (Decision)
The decision, or holding, is the court’s answer to the question (issue) presented to it for answer (decision) by the parties involved or raised by the court itself in its own reading of the case. The holding should directly respond to the question in the issue presented. If the opinion says “We hold…” that is the holding; but some holdings are not so easy to pinpoint, so look for language in the opinion that directly answers the issue(s).
The reasoning, or rationale, is the chain of argument which led the judges in either a majority or a dissenting opinion to rule as they did. This should be outlined point by point in numbered sentences or paragraphs. The reasoning explains why the court ruled the way it did. The court’s reasoning combines all parts of the case, describing the application of the rule of law to the facts of the case. Courts also cite other court’s (prior) opinions and reasoning or public policy considerations to answer the issue(s). This part of your brief should trace the court’s reasoning step by step.
Rule of Law: In some cases this will be clearer than others, but basically you want to identify the principle of law on which the judge is basing the resolution of the case and how the court applied the rule to the facts of the case before it.
Dissents (& Concurring Opinions)
Both concurring and dissenting opinions should be subjected to the same depth of analysis to bring out the major points of agreement or disagreement with the majority opinion. Make a note of how each justice voted and how they lined up.
NEVER brief a case until you have read it at least once. NEVER skim-read a case. You will miss the essence of the decision. You will probably have to read more complex cases several times before attempting to brief them. You may even have to outline a case before briefing it. Outlining a case is NOT the same as briefing it. A case brief involves analysis and specific organization of case information into a specific format.
NEVER rely on briefs found on the web because they may not follow the format I have provided (below) and you will not get credit for just copying a brief from some random web site. Not only is it possible that they will not follow the format that I am teaching, but they may be incomplete or even incorrect.
Important: You must read each entire case assigned for reading and for briefing exercises. You must follow the format I have specified when doing assigned briefing exercises.
A Sample Case Brief
Facts: A woman was denied an abortion by a doctor who was afraid to violate a Texas criminal statute prohibiting abortions except “for the purpose of saving the life of the mother.”
Procedural History: The Federal District Court ruled the Texas statute unconstitutional and there was a direct appeal by Texas to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Issue: Does the Texas statute violate a constitutional right to have an abortion?
Holding: Yes: The statute is unconstitutional because the constitution contains a right to an abortion.
Majority Reasoning: (Written by Justice Blackmun)
Rule: The State of Texas has a law banning all abortions because it (1) protects prenatal life and (2) protects the medical safety of pregnant women. The court accepts that these interests are important but rejects Texas’s absolute rule because of the counter-weighing interests of the pregnant woman (she has a privacy right grounded in a “penumbra” of Amendments, because “activities relating to marriage, procreation, family relationships, and child rearing and education” are “fundamental” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.”) and because she also has an interest in avoiding possible severe physical and psychological harm if an abortion is denied. Further, a fetus is not a “person” within the meaning of the constitution, so it doesn’t get protection as a person. Thus, a proper rule balances the interests of the state v. the interests of women. During the early stages of pregnancy, women have stronger interests than the state, but as a fetus develops, the state interests in prenatal life and a woman’s health become more “compelling,” thus overriding the woman’s interests.
This resulted in a 3 Part Rule (aka trimester framework). A first trimester of pregnancy has very little state interest in regulating abortion, so most abortion regulations are invalid at that stage of development. Second trimester pregnancy has moderate state interest (medical health of women) so most medical regulations are legal. However, in the third trimester there is a compelling state interest (fetal viability) so a state can deny abortion (except to save a woman’s life). In this case, Texas’s law violates this framework, because it outlaws abortions not just in the third trimester, but also in the first and second trimesters.
Concurrences (Stewart): A right to abortion comes only from 14th Amendment “liberty,” and not from a “penumbra” of Bill of Rights. (Burger): There is a right to an abortion, but the court should give more leeway to medical safeguards. (Douglas): There is a right to abortion, but this comes from a broad right of privacy.
Dissent (Rehnquist): A specific “liberty” not found in the Bill of Rights is not absolutely protected because the correct test for social and economic regulation is whether the law has “rational relation to a valid state objective.” The majority ignores that rule. The trimester scheme is “judicial legislation” and historical legal prohibitions show abortion is “not so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked fundamental” because the drafters of the 14th Amendment did not intend to limit the states’ ability to regulate abortion.
Dissent (White): There is nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court’s judgment, so the majority’s decision must be a “raw exercise of judicial power” that is “improvident and extravagant.” The decision whether to allow abortions or not should be left to the people of the states and their legislatures – in other words, the political process.