They say a picture can be worth a thousand words. But in legal writing a case name can be worth a thousand words – probably more for some cases. Case names are often used as shorthand for their holdings, but some cases establish such fundamental concepts they become the root of a term of art. Case name terms of art trigger a well-informed reader to call to mind a complicated legal concept and pair that with a particular application, such as an objection or a test. Usually using the first party name listed in the style of the case, these constructs become usefully packed with meaning.
This is a very handy communication tool for the legal profession and can simplify legal writing, but for the law student preparing for class or researching, case-name terms of art can be far from helpful. Nothing will grind that rushed, pre-class reading to a halt faster than an embedded reference to a case (not even assigned) that lays the foundation for understanding the assigned case.
Struggling with such loaded terms is yet another not-so-pleasant aspect of adapting to law school, but, hopefully, this post can shrink that learning curve by giving you some examples of how cases can morph into unique terms of art.
1. Daubert Challenge
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993). A Daubert Challenge is an objection to expert testimony, claiming that the testimony relies on an unreliable technology or methodology. The party raising the challenge argues that the evidence is so unreliable that the court must play its “gatekeeper role” in blocking the jury from even hearing the evidence. Black’s Law Dictionary 453 (9th ed. 2009). While the application of the holding now varies across jurisdictions, this term of art represents the generic type of objection established by the namesake case.
2. Brady Disclosure
Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Brady material is evidence that the prosecution obtains in a criminal case that is favorable to the defendant. Black’s Law Dictionary 212. The prosecution complies with its duty, established by Brady v. Maryland, to turnover Brady material through a Brady disclosure. This term represents a procedural requirement the namesake case established.
3. Chevron Deference
Chevron U.S.A Inc. v. Nat. Res. Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). Chevron deference is an important administrative law concept. This term reduces a 29-page Supreme Court opinion into a two part test for the legality of an agency’s enactment of its statutory authority. Chevron deference asks (1) is the statute the agency is implementing ambiguous? And if yes, (2) was the agency’s interpretation reasonable? Black’s Law Dictionary 270. If the agency can pass both prongs of the test, the court will defer to the agency’s interpretation of the statute. This term of art represents the “test” famously associated with the namesake case.
4. Miranda Warning
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Thanks to the movies, most everyone knows this criminal procedure concept. According to the Supreme Court’s fifth-amendment holding in Miranda, before interrogation, a criminal suspect in police custody must be informed of certain constitutional rights, and if the suspect is not informed, or the right is not waived, then what the police learn from the suspect cannot come in as evidence. Black’s Law Dictionary 1087. Miranda warning is shorthand for the average 64-word notification of constitutional rights. This term of art provides a convenient shorthand for lawyers and non-lawyer practitioners such as law enforcement.
5. Batson Challenge
Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). A Batson challenge is an objection to a peremptory strike during voir dire if the potential jury being struck is a member of a protected class and a discriminatory grounds is suspected. Black’s Law Dictionary 261. Batson v. Kentucky was a criminal case that established the ability to challenge a potentially race-based peremptory strike. Once the challenge is made, the other side must give a non-discriminatory basis for the strike. After Batson, other cases expanded the concept to other protected classes and civil cases. Such terms of art represent a consolidation of decades of case-law development extending beyond the original namesake case’s holding.
6. Twiqbal Pleading
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). For an added degree of difficulty, this civil procedure term is actually a mixture of two cases. In Twiqbal In Context, Christine P. Bartholomew writes:
By retiring notice pleading, … Twombly effectively altered Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 12(b)(6) – forgoing merit-based determinations that long served as the core of civil procedure gate keeping. Twombly and the related decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, collectively referenced as Twiqbal, create a plausibility standard. Judges are to evaluate the viability of a plaintiff’s pre-discovery factual allegations by using common sense based on judicial experience. Twiqbal In Context 744.
Some terms of art are more common in legal scholarship than in practice, but they still serve to reduce a complicated legal theory to convenient shorthand phrase.
7. Terry Stop
Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). This criminal procedure term describes a type of stop and its associated legal rights and restrictions. Also referred to as a “stop and frisk,” while conducting a Terry stop, a police officer can briefly detain, question, and search a person for a concealed weapon if the officer has a reasonable belief the person has committed or is about to commit a crime. Black’s Law Dictionary 1555. This term of art signifies a factual circumstance and the legal bounds of an actor in such a circumstance as established by the namesake case.
8. McNaughten Rules
McNaughten’s Case, 8 Eng. Rep. 718 (H.L. 1843). While largely superseded by criminal codes at this point, law school would not be law school without a nod to the British common-law. This case established the common-law insanity defense – a foundation of modern U.S. insanity defenses. The McNaughten rules ask whether a mental disability prevented the defendant from comprehending (1) the nature and quality of the act committed or (2) whether the act was right or wrong. Black’s Law Dictionary 1069. Reaching back as far as 1843, such a term of art can represent a common-law doctrine the namesake case established.
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