Telling Stories in the Supreme Court: Voices Briefs and the Role of Democracy in Constitutional Deliberation
64 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2017
Date Written: 2017
On January 4, 2016, over 112 women lawyers, law professors, and former judges told the world that they had had an abortion. In a daring amicus brief that captured national media attention, the women “came out” to their clients; to the lawyers with or against whom they practice; to the judges before whom they appear; and to the Justices of the Supreme Court.
The past three years have seen an explosion of such “voices briefs,” 16 in Obergefell and 17 in Whole Woman’s Health. The briefs can be powerful, but their use is controversial. They tell the stories of non-parties—strangers to the appellate case—with no vetting by cross examination or the rules of evidence. Yet, despite their controversial nature, they have thus far received little academic attention.
The time has come to ask some tough questions: Are these briefs legally permissible? Theoretically legitimate? How do they compare with other sources consulted regularly by the Court? Are they really so different from the policy arguments we have accepted without blinking for over a hundred years?
These foundational questions quickly take us into even murkier waters—legal and constitutional theory; narrative theory; framing; and cognitive science. Voices briefs prompt us to look at constitutional decision-making in a new way. Soon we find that voices briefs are interrogating long-accepted assumptions rather than the other way around. The analysis produces some surprising reasons why voices briefs can play an important role in constitutional interpretation and some realistic ideas about handling the undeniable concerns that still haunt their use.
Keywords: constitution, abortion, legal rhetoric, Supreme Court, discrimination, civil procedure, amicus brief, women, feminism
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