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Is It Caselaw or Case Law? Twitter, and Everyone Else, Weighs In

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on November 03, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It seems innocuous enough of a topic. When discussing the "legal principles enunciated and embodied in judicial decisions that are derived from the application of particular areas of law to the facts of individual cases" is it caselaw or case law?

Of course, it depends on who you ask. And whoever you ask, they'll have very, very strong opinions. Just check out the Twitter war that erupted after the Solicitor General's style manual called for the "total extirpation" of the "barbarism" of caselaw -- and ran afoul of Black's Law Dictionary in the process.

The SG Wants to Stamp Out Caselaw

If you want to write like U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, or write for him, you turn to the Solicitor General's Style Guide. The second edition of the guide was released in early October and takes some surprisingly radical positions, like not italicizing en banc, mens rea, or a host of other Latin legal phrases. (Passim, inter alia, and supra stay slanted, the National Law Journal reports.)

But it was the treatment of caselaw that set everyone off. The style manual kept with the first edition's treatment of word, citing to Regan-era Solicitor General Charles Fried's 1987 call for the "'total extirpation' of this 'barbarism.'" Joe Fore, co-director of UVA Law's legal writing program, tweeted news of the change. "Who uses 'caselaw' anyway?" the Twitter account Eleventh Circuit Ops wondered.

Who? Black's Law Dictionary

A lot of people. A lot of people use caselaw and many of them are argumentative lawyers. Twitter soon erupted into a heated dispute. Were you #teamcaselaw or were you just a Nazi?

Thankfully, Brendan Kenny, attorney, Lawyerist contributor, and humanitarian, collected the best of the tweets for posterity. They include John Neiman, former Alabama Solicitor General and once-upon-a-time clerk for Justice Kennedy. Neiman decried the "case law" rule as "classic federal overreach."

Bryan Garner, editor of Black's Law Dictionary, was much cited by defenders of caselaw. In June, Garner offered a thoughtful defense of caselaw, saying that it's a solidified two-syllable noun phrase along the same lines as today.

But #teamcaselaw may be outnumbered. Eleventh Circuit Ops and a twitter poll showed that "caselaw" was a much less common phrase, with case law the preferred phrase by 77 percent of Twitter voters and in the vast majority of Google Scholar references. Of course, caselaw will always have some fans. As Ricardo Barrera, @apellatepro, noted, caselaw's biggest supporters are bound to be attorneys who are just one word over the word limit.

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