Proposed Changes To Federal Appellate Rules Face Opposition

Adam Hofmann 
Adam Hofmann
February 25, 2015

In August 2014, the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Conference of the United States proposed to change Rule 32 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure to reduce the permissible length of appellate briefs. Comments on the proposed rule change were due February 17, 2015, and the responses have been almost universally negative.

Under the amended rules, “principle briefs”—that is, an appellant’s opening brief and an appellee’s answering brief—will be limited to 12,500 words, down from 14,000 under the current rule.  Reply briefs will be reduced from 7,000 words to 6,250.

Opponents include prominent appellate specialists, former Solicitors General , multi-national law firms, and public interest organizations.  In addition, Gregory Sisk of the University of St. Thomas School of Law and Michael Heise of the Cornell School of Law published a paper in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies concluding that appellants will find it more difficult to challenge trial-court decisions with shorter briefs.

So far, no final action has been taken.  We will provide an update as new developments arise.  For those of us practicing regularly in the California Courts of Appeal, it is also worth noting that California Rules of Court, rule 8.204(c) matches the word limit established by the current Federal Rules, but there is no indication that California’s Judicial Council is currently considering an amendment to Rule 8.204 to match the proposed change in the Federal Rules.