GUEST COMMENTARY: Amicus briefs give Indiana a voice

2014-06-25T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Amicus briefs give Indiana a voiceGreg Zoeller nwitimes.com
June 25, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The U.S. Supreme Court and federal appeals courts decide important cases impacting the constitutional rights of everyone, the responsibilities of businesses toward consumers and the relationship between government and citizens. Indiana and other have a stake in these questions.

Indiana and other states file amicus briefs, also called friend-of-the-court briefs, with the courts. If not a party to the lawsuit, a state can submit an amicus brief, a thoroughly researched legal document explaining the state’s interest in the case and legal argument for the judges to consider as they formulate their ruling.

My office defends Indiana statutes from current legal challenges in court, but we also must anticipate future challenges. By participating in amicus briefs in other states’ lawsuits, we both sharpen Indiana’s legal arguments in preparation for our own later cases and ensure our views are understood by the judges who create the precedents that may guide – or even control – our future cases.

Cooperating with AG’s offices in other states, my office since January 2009 has authored or co-authored 29 amicus briefs that other states joined, or signed on to; and we joined another 113 briefs that other states authored. 

Staying in regular contact with our state AG counterparts, my office participates in briefs where states have strong common interests. Since 2009, about one-sixth of briefs were filed in cases involving the relationship between the federal government and states. About one in 10 briefs involved consumer protection and environmental laws impacting state enforcement authority. The largest group, one in four, involved criminal law.

In a wide array of cases, many corporations and special interests submit their own amicus briefs conveying their positions to the court, but states’ amicus briefs carry special significance because states represent the public as a whole.

During annual meetings of the 50 state AGs held at the Supreme Court building in Washington D.C., the justices have encouraged states to file amicus briefs as an important view for their consideration. In my office, drafting and reviewing briefs is handled by Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher, who has argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and has written briefs in several more.

Our salaried attorneys don’t charge billable hours, and amicus work is factored into our budget the Legislature approved in advance.

Indiana should not stand silent as the important legal issues of our time are decided. By authoring or joining amicus briefs, our state government’s voice can be heard on fundamental issues even if we are not parties to a case.

Greg Zoeller is Indiana's attorney general. The opinions are the writer's.

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