For the rest of the world, “a facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.” Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night, 1935. To non-lawyers, quoting is viewed as “saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business.” A.A. Milne, If I May, 1920.

But, in our profession, perhaps because of the common law’s reliance on stare decisis, an idea expressed as a direct quote from a published case is almost uniformly regarded as being better than one expressed using the author’s own voice. And, what’s better than that? An idea expressed as a direct quote from a case which was itself a direct quote from another case, complete with ‘internal quotations marks’, a team of [brackets] to reflect changes, ellipses thrown in here and there, all tied together with a string site that extends to the end of the page. Whatever the virtue of a quote-driven profession may be, the result is that our writing is painful to read.

Jack Metzler, the government lawyer behind the Twitter handle @SCOTUSplaces, has a proposed solution to the chaos – a new parenthetical: (cleaned up).

His idea started as a tweet, but has grown into a full article entitled, Cleaning Up Quotations, soon to be published in the Journal of Appellate Practice and Process. Using (cleaned up) would signal to the reader that:

The author has (i) removed extraneous, non-substantive material like brackets, quotation marks, ellipses, footnote signals, and internal citations; and (ii) may have changed capitalization without brackets. The quotation otherwise faithfully reproduces the quoted text.

The idea has already won the approval of at least one of Mr. Metzler’s peers in the appellate writing Twitterati:

I like “cleaned up” as a signal in legal cites. Reavely J. may have been the first circuit judge to use it.

@BryanAGarner, 18 Aug 2017, 1:55 PM.

11 Responses to “Scholarship Saturday: A new citation signal – (cleaned up)”

  1. Dew_Process says:

    Well,if Bryan Garner’s on-board, it should be good-to-go!

  2. Not a Con Law Scholar says:

    Thanks for sharing! — I wasn’t tracking this at all.  I was going to say I hope that law reviews follow suit, but I suppose there isn’t the inherent need for brevity.  

  3. I fischer says:

    Don’t like it.  Leaves too much open to interpretation and I would like to specifically know what was amended.  

  4. Tom Booker says:

    I’m with I fischer on this one, Zeke.  I also favor using nouns as nouns and verbs as verbs (think “invite”; “quote”; “cite”).  Just as every translator is a liar (as we classicists are wont to say), every editor brings some sort of nuance or bias to the table; accordingly, “cleaned up” leaves far too much room for interpretation.
    Respectfully, LTB

  5. stewie says:

    I propose: (autocorrect!).
    This would be when you mean one word, but autocorrect makes it a different word and you don’t notice it until after it’s too late.

  6. K fischer says:

    Whatever, Stevie…..

  7. K fischer says:


  8. Tom Booker says:

    Is it an “autocorrect” when K Fischer appears as I Fischer?  Is the device confusing Iodine with Potassium?
    Respectfully, LTB

  9. Here's A Idea says:

    And while we are at it, judges can wear funny hats instead of robes.  That will make trials less boring, and more interesting to the common folk.  

  10. K fischer says:

    Indeed it did, LTB.

  11. Whig Party says:

    Bring back the wigs while you are at it!