An amicus brief is a learned treatise submitted by an amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”), someone who is not a party to a case who offers information that bears on the case but that has not been solicited by any of the parties to assist a court. The amicus brief is a way to introduce concerns ensuring that the possibly broad legal effects of a court decision will not depend solely on the parties directly involved in the case.
Typically, amici are serious—and dull—documents. You won’t find many that include references to “Full House (ABC 1987-1995),” Vladimir Putin, Torquemada, “Gilmore Girls (Warner Bros. 2000-2007),” Chris Rock, Salman Rushdie, and “The Avengers (Marvel Studios 2012).” And you’re likely to find even fewer that recommend the state of Texas be declared “unconstitutional.” But all of that was included in a brief submitted by humorist P.J. O’Rourke (and friends) in a case heard yesterday by the US Supreme Court.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), argued before the court its free-speech rights were violated when the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles rejected its proposal for a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate flag. In their amicus brief supporting SCV, O’Rourke, et al argued that the state of Texas had “empowered the State Department of Motor Vehicles to prevent people from being offended by license plates.”