Frenemies of the Court: The Many Faces of Amicus Curiae

Helen A. Anderson*

Ask any lawyer what an “amicus curiae” is, and you will be told that the term means “friend of the court.”[1] The term has positive, even warm, connotations. Amicus briefs provide additional information or perspectives to assist courts in deciding issues of public importance. Interest groups, law professors, and politically engaged lawyers are happy to participate in important cases through such briefs. Amicus curiae participation is defended as democratic input into what is otherwise not a democratic branch of government.[2]

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*Professor of Law, University of Washington School of Law. The author wishes to thank her colleagues at the University of Washington School of Law who attended a presentation of this article, and especially Thomas Cobb, Lisa Manheim, Kate O’Neill, Kathy McGinnis, Zahr Said, and David Ziff for their excellent suggestions. Elizabeth Porter read a draft and provided much expertise and encouragement. The author also wishes to thank the participants at the West Coast Rhetoric Workshop at the William S. Boyd School of Law (2012), and, in particular, Linda Edwards and Jeanne Moreno for their helpful comments on an earlier draft.

[1].   See Black’s Law Dictionary 98 (9th ed. 2009) (defining “amicus curiae” and also noting “friend of the court” as an alternative term).

[2].   See, e.g., Ruben J. Garcia, A Democratic Theory of Amicus Advocacy, 35 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 315, 319–20 (2008); Ryan Salzman, Christopher J. Williams & Bryan T. Calvin, The Determinants of the Number of Amicus Briefs Filed Before the U.S. Supreme Court, 1953–2001, 32 Just. Sys. J. 293, 294–95 (2011); Omari Scott Simmons, Picking Friends from the Crowd: Amicus Participation as Political Symbolism, 42 Conn. L. Rev. 185, 190 (2009).