19 June 2013

"So you're saying there's a chance!"

The Supreme Court's jurisdiction is largely discretionary. This means that it gets to pick and choose which cases it accepts. Over the past ten years, an average of more than 8,000 petitions are filed; yet the Court only accepts about 80 cases per term (or, ~1%). Less likely are in forma pauperis (IFP) petitions, which comprise nearly 80% of all petitions. Yet only about 11 IFP cases are granted of the 80 cases per term , which means that the likelihood of an IFP petition being granted is less than two tenths of one percent. Many of these IFP petitioners are also pro se (advocating on one's own behalf before a court, rather than being represented by a lawyer).

With all that being said, you might be reminded of this scene:

Yes, Lloyd, there's a chance. But it's not a very good one.

But every once in a while, the Supreme Court gives you that chance. And it did just that on Monday as it granted certiorari in the case of Law v. Siegel. The question in the case is whether the Ninth Circuit erred in allowing the bankruptcy trustee to surcharge Law’s constitutionally protected homestead property.

Stephen Law beats the odds. He filed a pro se, in forma pauperis petition that was granted by the Court (by the time Law's reply brief was filed in November, he had counsel).

Lawyers, legal practitioners, and law students used to reading highly polished appellate briefs will not want to take any notes from Law's petition. The errors start on the cover page and keep coming, fast and furious. But this post isn't intended to criticize the petition. It is to highlight that the highly improbable does happen. And sometimes the Court reads past all the errors and says "yes."

I'll have more on this case as we approach oral argument sometime next fall.
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