All Hands on Deck: My Experience Helping to Edit an Opinion (Quinn Rowan)

| Quinn Rowan | 26 July 2012 | Manhattan, United States |

 In the life of a federal judge, a motion to dismiss requires the evaluation of the facts of a case with an analysis of jurisdictional and procedural requirements.  Last week, a fellow intern and I assisted the judge’s clerks with some “behind the scenes” tasks, such as: copyediting, cite checking and proofreading. Even for an opinion on a motion to dismiss, there is a need to check and re-check the relevant information.  Misspellings, spacing errors, erroneous quoting and grammatical errors are but a few of the items checked. I was surprised when, my first day as an intern, I was instructed to put hash marks through each parenthesis, quotation and bracket to ensure that each had a parallel opening and closing. I learned quickly that editing a judicial document requires meticulous work and that these tasks consumed a large part of our day.

The deadline-driven journalistic atmosphere was reminiscent of a newsroom.  Our adrenaline levels rose as we applied ourselves to the task at hand, meticulously poring over each draft for grammatical errors, Bluebook guidelines, and correct legal analysis. Each new draft was labeled, time-stamped and edited by each of us.  Every new pass required a sanity test, a citation test and proofreading for any egregious errors.  Although the length of an opinion varies from judge to judge, the goal is the same: to provide a thorough and well-written legal decision.

A typical case in the Court of International Trade involves either dumping or tariffs.  For dumping issues, Congress has promulgated antidumping legislation to combat predatory pricing – i.e., when one charges less for a good in a foreign market than one charges in their own domestic market.  As a safeguard against dumping, firms may file petitions with the Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission to investigate the alleged dumping, which can and does cause significant harm to U.S. domestic companies.  The Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) evaluates the foreign market to determine “normal value,” or the price at which the goods are being sold in the exporting country, and compares that with the sale price in the U.S.  At the same time, the International Trade Commission (“ITC”) evaluates the domestic U.S. industry to determine if there is evidence of material injury or threat of material injury from the allegedly dumped goods.  If the ITC affirmatively finds injury or the threat of injury and Commerce determines that the normal value exceeds the U.S. sale price of the merchandise, an antidumping duty will be levied to make up the difference. After a dumping margin is assessed, foreign companies will often challenge the dumping margin at the Court of International Trade in an attempt to either have the margin lowered or even eliminated. Although antidumping cases may seem straightforward, they involve many players: foreign exporters, importers, U.S. firms, the Department of Commerce, the International Trade Commission and the Court of International Trade. Further complicating matters, sometimes foreign exporters are actually parents or subsidiaries of domestic companies, leading to interesting combinations of plaintiffs and defendants.

As we neared our deadline to submit the opinion, the pressure was on.  At that point, our proofreading eyes were tired, as we had read the same document multiple times during our editing process. Further, we had exhausted our coffee and chocolate options.  Admittedly, checking short-cites at a large mahogany desk in a federal court house adds a level of exhilaration that is lacking when, for example, you’re reviewing Legal Writing slides from class in order to cite-check your own legal memo at 2 a.m.

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