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Posner writes ‘review’ of The Bluebook

If you are working on a brief for a case in the 7th Circuit and you can’t find your copy of The Bluebook, consider yourself in luck.

The Yale Law Journal asked Judge Richard A. Posner to write a book review of the latest edition of The Bluebook (551 pages), and rather than actually studying and reviewing it, he instead reprinted the citation rules he issues to his new law clerks (less than 3 pages).

As a bonus, the review also contains some entertaining criticism of The Bluebook generally.

The review begins with a discussion of the word, “hypertrophy.” Medically, the term refers to a disease in which an organ grows to abnormal size because of uncontrolled growth of cells.

Anthropologically, it refers to any structure or activity that has grown far beyond any functional need. Posner cites pyramid building and The Bluebook as examples: “The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation exemplifies hypertrophy in the anthropological sense. It is a monstrous growth, remote from the functional need for legal citation forms, that serves obscure needs of the legal culture and its student subculture.”

Posner adds, “The analogy of cancer to The Bluebook’s growth comes quickly to mind, as does the distinction between the multiplication of cancer cells in the organ in which they first appear and their eventual metastasis to other organs.”

Opining that, “Efforts to impose uniformity beyond the basic conventions encounter rapidly diminishing returns well illustrated by The Bluebook’s obsession with abbreviations,” Posner asks, “What is the point? It’s as if there were a heavy tax on letters, making it costly to write out Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals instead of abbreviating it ‘C.G. Ct. Crim. App.'”

And he does not spare avid users of the book. Turning his attention to former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who was well known for his affinity for The Bluebook, Posner writes:

“Justice Blackmun, though he let his law clerks write most of his opinions, citechecked the clerks’ drafts meticulously and is reputed to have been a positively awesome bluebooker, despite which his opinions are not generally admired, even by those who like the outcomes. (Although the Supreme Court has its own citation system, it is very limited, and The Bluebook is available to fill the interstices.) Blackmun even bluebooked his clerks’ bench memos!”

Among the recommendations in Posner’s guide, in addition to avoiding abbreviations, are the following:

Regional reporter is preferred, but if the citation is to the official state reporter, do not repeat the state name within parentheses. If you have a regional-reporter citation, do not add the official-reporter citation.

Don’t just copy blindly a citation from a reporter; reformat it (e.g., by putting a space between court and year, as West does not do: “7th Cir. 2000” not “7th Cir.2000”).

Always spell out United States.

Do not note cert. denied.

n  Do not use brackets to indicate when a capital letter has been lower cased within a quotation.

n  Do not use pincites in short opinions or opinions that stand for a single point.

n  Insert a space between the “n.” and the note number, and if you need to cite both the note and the text on the page, use an “and” instead of an ampersand.

Of course, Judge Posner probably won’t even be on the panel that hears your case, and the judges who are assigned to it may have other preferences. But, as Posner notes in his “review” of The Bluebook, the 7th Circuit does not have citation form requirements anyway.

The review is available at http://www.yalelawjournal.org/images/pdfs/940.pdf.

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