The Supreme Court issued revisions to its rules today. The changes largely mirror the amendments proposed late last year, with one notable exception: Although the justices reduced the word limits for opening briefs on the merits, they left the existing word limits for reply briefs in place.
Changes to two rules – Rules 14.1 and 15.2 – require the parties to a case before the Supreme Court to identify any lower-court cases that are directly related to the Supreme Court proceedings. This change, a comment to the rules explains, “will assist in evaluating whether a Justice’s involvement in a case before the Court might require recusal.” The new requirement comes just a little over a year after Justice Anthony Kennedy – who has since retired – had to recuse himself from a tribal-fishing-rights case when he belatedly realized that he had participated in the case before joining the Supreme Court in 1988, as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. With Kennedy sitting out the case, the court deadlocked 4-4, leaving the lower court’s decision in place.
Another modification will reduce the time to file a reply brief on the merits in some cases. Reply briefs are normally due 30 days after the respondent files its opening brief on the merits, but no later than 2 p.m. seven days before a case is scheduled for oral argument. Under the new rule, the reply brief must be filed no later than 2 p.m. 10 days before the oral argument.
Changes to Rules 29.1. and 29.2 make clear that, despite the arrival of electronic filing at the Supreme Court in recent years, “paper remains the official form of filing,” and the filing of paper copies determines whether a document was filed on time.
A revision to Rule 33.1(g) reduces the word limit for opening briefs on the merits from 15,000 to 13,000 words. However, the court did not adopt a proposed change that would have reduced the word limit for reply briefs from 6,000 to 4,500. A group of Supreme Court practitioners had opposed both changes, but had described the proposed reduction to the word count for reply briefs as “particularly harmful.”
The new rules go into effect on July 1, 2019.