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Amicus Curiae Briefs: Definition & Example

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Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Meaning 'friend of the court,' amicus curiae briefs are filed for various reasons to give the public a voice regarding certain legal issues. Explore the definition of these legal documents and understand their purpose with the aid of real-life examples. Updated: 10/15/2021

Definition of Amicus Curiae

Let's say that you believe strongly that marijuana should be legal in the United States for medicinal purposes only. You are aware that there is a case going to the Supreme Court, and you want to try and influence the Court's decision. Even though you are not involved directly in the action, you want to file a brief in support of your position. This type of brief is an amicus curiae brief.

Amicus curiae translates from Latin to 'friend of the court', and that's exactly what an amicus curiae brief represents. An amicus curiae brief is a legal document submitted by a person or group that is not involved directly in the particular action. Rather, the brief is submitted by a party who has the same or similar interests in the outcome of the case. Consequently, that person or group will file an amicus curiae brief outlining the arguments as to why the case should be ruled in a certain way. The goal of the party filing the amicus curiae brief is to sway the court to decide in their favor.

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Purposes of Amicus Curiae Briefs

Initially, one may file an amicus curiae brief in order to support an argument previously made by a party involved in the case. Another reason is to point out new arguments in the case which have not been introduced previously. Moreover, the amicus curiae brief can serve to demonstrate to the court the consequence of a certain decision. For instance, the outcome of a case can lend to a social, political, legal or economic result. Ultimately, the amicus curiae brief can serve any or all of the aforementioned purposes.

Examples of Amicus Curiae

In order to fully understand amicus curiae briefs, it can be useful to review some examples. First, imagine that there is a law that does not allow a town to have a transfer station. The law is subject to a challenge and is before the Supreme Court. You own a transfer station, and the ban on the transfer stations causes you to lose your business. As a result, you have a serious stake in the matter and file an amicus curiae brief to ensure that the Court knows your situation and side of the controversy.

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