How to Brief a Case
In this course, you will be required to read case law. Briefing a case allows you to synthesize the information from the case in order to facilitate understanding of the case. It further provides a quick “cheat sheet” for you as it summarizes the pertinent portions of the cases for easy reference. Therefore, you will be able to refer back to your case briefs during class discussions as well as for your assignments, quizzes, and examinations. Please make sure to take a look at the “Sample Briefed Case” that points out the relevant portions of the case that you want to ensure are covered in your briefs.
For this course, you should conform your case briefs as follows:
1. On top of the page (centered) you should indicate the
case name and citation as listed on the syllabus.
2. Your next section will be the “
facts” section. In this section, you will provide a brief summary of the relevant facts of the case. In order to determine what is relevant for the purposes of this summary, you will want to focus on the issue presented in the case. Think about what the court is called upon to decide. Your summary should flow from there.
3. Your next section will be the “
issue” section. This discusses the question that the court is called upon to answer in the case. Many times, a court will state the issue very simply. (e.g. “Whether or not the proposed legislation violates the First Amendment.”) You will be able to recognize the central issue in the case because it many times begins with the word “whether.” You should also pay attention to sub-issues. For example, in order to determine whether or not the proposed legislation violates the First Amendment, another question should be decided. The court may also list this in their discussion.
4. Your next section will cite the applicable “
rule.” Many times the applicable rule is a particular statute or constitutional provision. However, many times the cited rule comes with an accompanying test that also requires recitation. For example in a case that implicates the 14th Amendment, the court could be called upon to decide whether or not a race-conscious admissions policy at a university violates the 14th amendment. Thus, when stating the applicable rule, you will cite the 14th Amendment. However, you will
also cite the applicable test. (e.g. When race is implicated, under the equal protection clause, the proposed policy will be subject to strict scrutiny which requires that the policy be narrowly-tailored and serve a compelling state interest.) Many times in cases, the rule is prefaced by the word, “where…” (e.g. where race is implicated, strict scrutiny applies.)
5. Your next section will cite the “
analysis” used by the court. How did the court come to it’s ultimate decision? What rationale (or reasoning) did they use? What factors were determinative?
6. Your final section will cite the “
holding” (or the final decision) of the court. How did the court rule? Did the court overturn the decision of the lower court? (i.e. reverse) Or did the court affirm the decision of the lower court? Many times, you will recognized the holding because the court will say, “this court holds,” or “it is the decision of this court,” or “therefore, this court affirms the decision of the appellate court.”
b. Make sure that you understand the procedural history of the case that you are reading. Many times the cases we read are appellate cases. This means that they have already been heard by the trial court and is being re-considered for some reason. The beginning of the case will set forth the main facts. Then, usually, the court will discuss what happened in the court(s) below.
MAKE SURE NOT TO CONFUSE THE ISSUES BEFORE THE COURT IN THE CASE YOU ARE READING!! (i.e. If you are reading a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, the case will likely summarize what happened at trial, what happened at the State Supreme Court level and/or what happened at the Circuit Court of Appeal level before discussing the issue before it.)