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Friends With Benefits: Who Are the SCOTUS Amicus All-Stars?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Adam Chandler is something of a certiorari numbers buff. When Chandler isn't hard at work as an attorney in the Appellate Section of the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department, he's crunching numbers about cert-stage amicus briefs.

Five years ago, Chandler used his mathematical wizardry to annoint a group of Supreme Court cert-stage all-stars. All-star status was awarded based on the number of amicus briefs that a friend of the Court submitted during a three-year period, and the corresponding number of petitions granted.

Now, Chandler has a new report on the all-stars at SCOTUSblog. While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is now a two-time MVP, there are a several interesting newcomers to the all-star ranks.

Before we get to the winners, you should understand Chandler's method. He explains:

I reviewed every cert.-stage amicus brief filed between May 19, 2009, and August 15, 2012. That time frame is the same (arbitrary) time frame I used [for the last study] but shifted forward five years, allowing for easy comparison. Counting the number of briefs filed by each amicus is straightforward. I counted a brief on behalf of multiple amici as a brief for each one, and I excluded certain amici to focus on private organizations. (The excluded parties include the United States, foreign governments, states, cities, public officials, professors, and other individuals.) Then I ranked the parties by the number of briefs they had filed and researched the outcomes of the top sixteen amici's efforts. I computed an amicus's success rate as a percentage of the petitions it had supported that were either granted or denied. (That calculation counts a summary disposition as a grant but does not factor in GVRs or the rare amicus brief opposing cert.)

Based on Chandler's calculations, the Top 5 friends of the Court are:

  1. U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  2. National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  3. Pacific Legal Foundation
  4. Cato Institute
  5. Washington Legal Foundation

Within that list, the Chamber and the Defense Lawyers maintained the same rank, the Pacific Legal Foundation rose one spot, and the Washington Legal Foundation dropped two places. The Cato Institute was the only newcomer to the Top 5; it wasn't even ranked in the previous list. The full results are available here.

Lest you place too much faith in the all-stars' Midas touch, Chandler notes that "the influence of a cert-stage amicus brief should not be overestimated from the success percentages of the top sixteen groups, because at least some of the petitions they supported would have been granted regardless."

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