Cert-stage amicus practice: Where are the legal liberals?

by Brian Wolfman

In this SCOTUSblog post, Adam Chandler has repeated a study he did five years ago of cert-stage amicus filings at the U.S. Supreme Court. Chandler took a look at every cert.-stage amicus brief filed between May 19, 2009, and August 15, 2012. He found that "the [U.S.] Chamber [of Commerce] has cemented its status as the country’s preeminent
petition-pusher, and the rightward tilt of the most frequent filers has
grown even more pronounced."

Chandler has produced this astounding chart, which shows the Chamber leading the pack, with 54 cert-stage amicus briefs. The National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys is in second place with 41. The rest of the top 10 is occupied by groups generally on the legal political right, or, at least, groups that typically support business interests and oppose the positions taken in the Court by civil-rights or consumer-rights plaintiffs. The top ranks include the Pacific Legal Foundation, Cato, the Defense Research Institute (DRI), and the NAM. Of the 16 groups that have filed 10 or more cert-stage amicus briefs during the period studied, only two are considered liberal (the criminal defense lawyers already mentioned and AARP, which is ranked 11).

Let's assume that cert-stage amicus briefs matter, at least to some degree. Many court watchers think they do. Chandler cites evidence indicating that they do. So, where are the liberal groups, such as the ACLU, the National Employment Lawyers Association, and Public Citizen? Is it a matter of resources? To be sure, many liberal legal organizations can't match the resources of the Chamber of Commerce. Or is it tactical — that liberal groups would rather the current Court not get its mitts on cases that individual aggrieved litigants are taking up? A combination of the two? Or something else entirely?

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