Exam Type: No Exam
In this reading group, students will explore the many facets of bringing and litigating a case before
the U.S. Supreme Court. Students will learn about the distinct roles of the petition for certiorari,
amicus briefs, and merits-stage briefing. By studying actual Supreme Court pleadings and related
scholarship, students will gain exposure to the strategic decision points and evolution of an appeal
that precedes rulings that they are accustomed to reading in their other law school classes.
This offering explores these concepts with specific focus on the Supreme Court’s recent “Johnson
trilogy”—Johnson v. United States (2015), Welch v. United States (2016), and Beckles v. United
States (2017)—wherein the Court’s decision to review a narrow statutory question transformed
into a series of significant constitutional decisions leading to the release or resentencing of
thousands of individuals.
Among the topics students will consider and discuss are:
- The certiorari process—how and when a legal issue becomes worthy of the Supreme
Court’s attention and the “vehicle problem.”
- A case’s evolution from certiorari to the merits—how parties often seek to reposition their
cases once certiorari is granted and how the Court’s ultimate ruling sometimes answers a
very different question than it started with;
- Oral advocacy—what, if anything, it adds to written advocacy and the importance of a rule.
- The significance of Amicus Curiae—strategy and tension with “friends of the court”; the
ways in which amicus briefs can add value and be at odds with a Supreme Court litigant’s
- The role of the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office—the weight given to the office, when it
concedes defeat, and the role of court-appointed-amicus;
- Who represents non-governmental entities before the Supreme Court? The role played by
law firms, law school clinics, public defenders and nonprofit firms; pro bono representation
and “the public interest.”
In addition to reading excerpted materials from the trio of cases above as a foundation for exploring
these topics, students will be assigned academic reading and other commentary with relevant
While this reading group will not focus on doctrine, students planning to take (or currently taking)
Federal Courts may be particularly interested in this offering, as the three cases studied will provide
useful exposure to concepts like habeas corpus and the retroactivity of constitutional rules.
Students interested in criminal law may similarly appreciate some exposure to criminal sentencing,
Instructor: The instructor, Amir Ali, is Supreme Court and Appellate Counsel at the MacArthur
Justice Center, a national public interest law firm that litigates civil rights and criminal justice
issues. He litigated and argued Welch v. United States, one of the primary cases studied, before
the Supreme Court.
Note: This reading group will meet on the following dates: TBD.