Business law is not simply rules and regulations passed by federal and state org
Business law is not simply rules and regulations passed by federal and state
organizations and legislatures. Business law also includes case law created when courts
rule on various legal issues. Accordingly, being able to read and understand judicial
opinions is critical to obtaining a robust understanding of business law. One method for
understanding court cases and saving time is known as “briefing.” To brief a case, one
must read the case thoroughly, taking in the main points, then write up a short synopsis of
the case. A standard brief contains information from the case organized in the following
manner: (1) case name and citation; (2) facts; (3) issue; (4) holding/ruling; and (5)
reasons. By organizing case information according to the five categories just listed, one
can create a short guide to any case that contains all of the relevant information to aid in
understanding the case, as well as create a tool for later references to the case without
having to reread the case every time.
The following is a quick description of what information is typically included in
each of the five areas of a standard brief.
1. Case name and citation. This information is used to identify the case. Under this
heading the case name, the court making the decision, the year the decision was made,
and the citations for the case should all be included.
2. Facts. The facts section is used to provide the relevant background information from
the case to facilitate a full understanding of what lead to the case, as well as what
happened in lower court cases for cases that are heard on appeal. The facts section
should include: (a) relevant background information; (b) the arguments made by the
plaintiff(s) and defendant(s); (c) any decisions made by lower courts.
3. Issue. The issue, or issues, is the question, or questions, the court has been asked to
address in hearing the case. As such, the issue should be phrased as a question and
should pertain to the legal matter at the heart of the case.
4. Holding. The holding refers to how the court answered the question identified as the
issue. Typically, but not always, as simple yes or no will suffice to answer the issue
question. If yes or no is not enough to answer the question clearly, some more
information can be provided. But, as will be seen next, the following section contains
more information regarding the holding. In addition, for cases heard on appeal, it is
frequently advisable to include the effect of the briefed opinion on the lower courts’
holdings, such as affirmed, reversed, or remanded.
5. Reasons. The reasons section elaborates upon why the court made the ruling that it
did regarding the issue. To be helpful, the ruling section should be kept brief and should
contain what are the substantive legal reasons given for why the court ruled the way that
it did. If there were any concurring or dissenting opinions, the reasons given in these
other opinions should also be addressed in this section.
The following is an example of a case brief to demonstrate
what is typically included in a brief.
Morse v. Frederick
Supreme Court of the United States, 2007.
127 S.Ct. 2618,
168 L.Ed.2d. 290.
Facts: Morse, the principal of a high school in Alaska, allowed the students to stand
outside the school to watch as the Olympic torch was carried past the high school in
2002. At this school-sanctioned and school-supervised event, several students held up a
banner containing the phrase, “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS.” Morse, thinking the banner
advocated illegal drug use, following school policy against messages that are pro-drug
use, told the students to take the banner down. Frederick, one of the students with the
banner, refused, and was subsequently suspended. The superintendent and the school
board both supported the principal’s actions. Frederick sued Morse, arguing Morse
violated Frederick’s First Amendment right to free speech. The District Court ruled in
favor of Morse, saying no First Amendment violation occurred. Frederick appealed and
the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the activity was
school-authorized and that the message was pro-marijuana use. However, the Ninth
Circuit argued that the school did not demonstrate that Frederick’s speech threatened a
substantial disruption, and thus his First Amendment right was violated. Morse then
appealed to the Supreme Court.
Issue: Did Morse’s actions requiring Frederick to take down the banner and then
suspending Frederick for his refusal violate Frederick’s First Amendment right to free
Holding: No, Frederick’s First Amendment right to free speech was not violated. The
Ninth Circuit’s opinion was reversed and remanded in favor of Morse.
Reasons: The Supreme Court reasoned that Frederick’s speech is properly understood as
school speech, as it was at a school-sanctioned event, during school hours, on and
immediately off school property. As a school speech case, the school is allowed to limit
speech in ways they could not were it not a school event, which limits Frederick’s speech
rights preventing his unfurling of a banner supporting drug use in blatant violation of
school policy. The pro-drug message was clear, and no reasonable interpretation exists
for what the banner meant other than support illegal drug use. The pro-drug message,
which was against school policy was not required by Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503,
to involve a substantial disruption, as was argued in Bethel School Dist. No 403 v. Fraser,
478 U.S. 675. Furthermore, in accordance with the importance of preventing school aged
children from engaging in illegal substance use, the school was well within its power to
suspend Frederick for promoting drug use via his banner. The right to free speech is not
lost when children enter school, but the nature of permissible speech, per the ruling in
Justice Thomas concurred with Alito joining, and Breyer joining in part. Justice Thomas
argues that the decision in Tinker that offered students protection for some speech in
school has been chipped away, and even worse, lacks constitutional grounding. As such,
Thomas claims Tinker should be overturned and that there is no constitutional basis for
free speech for students in public schools.
Justice Alito concurred, with Justice Kennedy joining. Alito states he agrees with the
majority opinion, so long as the opinion is understood to be limited to preventing student
speech advocating drug use. In addition, Alito wants the majority opinion to be
understood as not impinging upon students’ right to comment on political or social issues,
including arguments about the wisdom of the war on drugs or the criminalization of
certain drugs. Alito argues his opinion is consistent with pre-existing case law, including
Tinker. Students have a right to political speech and social commentary, but they do not
have a right to advocate drug use in public schools.
Justice Stevens dissented, with Justices Souter and Ginsburg, and with Justice Breyer
joining in part. Stevens argues the Court erred in deciding to rule based on First
Amendment issues. Instead, Stevens claims Frederick’s suit should have been dismissed
due to qualified immunity, and the First Amendment issue should have remained
unaddressed in this case. Stevens feels the danger of a misinterpretation of the Court’s
ruling is very real, and the case did not lend itself to clear analysis and ruling based on
First Amendment principles. For Stevens, the Court should have been more careful in
ruling, as it is not hard to see other courts’ using the present ruling to limit student speech
well beyond what the Court intended. At no point do the dissenting justices question the
Court’s ultimate ruling, just the legal reasons for the ruling. Stevens, along with Souter
and Ginsburg, argue the banner was nonsensical simply meant to get on television,
making the tv cameras and not the other students, the recipients of the message.
Accordingly, it is wrong to make a First Amendment issue out of what was not a
meaningful message at all, but simply a ploy for attention. Qualified immunity case law
presents more than enough basis for finding Frederick’s case is groundless and would
have prevented the Court from setting a potentially dangerous and erroneous precedent.