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How to Make a Judge Dislike You (Part 1)

The following points are from the book The Art of Persuading Judges. The author, Antonin Scalia, was a judge on the Supreme Court in the US for 30 years. The second author, Bryan A. Garner, is a professor at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law and has written over 20 law books.

Now, how to make a judge dislike you...?

1. Appeal to the judges emotions, not reason

Appealing to judges’ emotions is misguided because it fundamentally mistakes their motivation. Good judges pride themselves on the rationality of their rulings and the suppression of their personal proclivities, including most especially their emotions. And bad judges want to be regarded as good judges. So either way, overt appeal to emotion is likely to be regarded as an insult.

2. Unorganise your materials

Fumbling through papers during an embarrassing silence not only wastes your argument time; it makes you look like an incompetent. 

I speak from the fullness of my heart when I say that I have seen more trouble in Court over disorderly papers than from any other cause. So I decline to treat as a triviality beneath counsel’s notice this matter of the tidiness and accessibility of the documents in the case.

3. Praise the judge's questions

Never—never—patronize a judge by volunteering “That’s a very good question.” Of course it is! All judges’ questions are ex officio brilliant. [F]or heaven’s sake, forget about the rather trite response ‘I’m glad you asked that question’ or ‘That question goes to the very heart of the case.’ We have all heard this response to our questions, and we are all a little bit skeptical about it.

4. Have irritating mannerisms

...we have seen just about every distracting and annoying sort of mannerism. Some appear to be unconscious and unintended: drumming one’s pencil on the counsel table, swaying back and forth during argument, fixing one’s gaze on the lectern or off into the middle distance instead of looking at the judge who is asking a question, fiddling with papers on the lectern, going through the argument with a frozen smile that’s either silly or supercilious.

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Want to read more? Buy the book here.

Legal Reasoning and Syllogism: A Primer

The book The Art of Persuading Judges by Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner, lays out the basics of legal reasoning. They assert that all arguments fall under positive or negative syllogisms. 

Leaving aside emotional appeals, persuasion is possible only because all human beings are born with a capacity for logical thought. It is something we all have in common. The most rigorous form of logic, and hence the most persuasive, is the syllogism.

Legal arguments can be expressed syllogistically in two ways:

Positive syllogisms:

Major premise: All S is P.
Minor premise: This case is S.
Conclusion: This case is P. 

Negative syllogisms:

Major premise: Only S is P.
Minor premise: This case is not S.
Conclusion: This case is not P.

What falls under the major premise?

Legal argument generally has three sources of major premises: a text (constitution, statute, regulation, ordinance, or contract), precedent (caselaw, etc.), and policy (i.e., consequences of the decision). Often the major premise is self-evident and acknowledged by both sides.

What falls under the minor premise?

The minor premise, meanwhile, is derived from the facts of the case. There is much to be said for the proposition that legal reasoning revolves mainly around the establishment of the minor premise.

And finally, some examples:

So if you’re arguing from precedent, your argument might go:

Major premise: Our cases establish that a prisoner has a claim for harm caused by the state’s deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.
Minor premise: Guards at the Andersen Unit ignored the plaintiff’s complaints of acute abdominal pain for 48 hours, whereupon his appendix burst.
Conclusion: The plaintiff prisoner has a claim.

Or if you’re arguing text:

Major premise: Under the Indian Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, states cannot tax Indian tribes for activities on reservations without the express authorization of Congress.
Minor premise: Without congressional authorization, South Dakota has imposed its motor-fuel tax on tribes that sell fuel on reservations.
Conclusion: South Dakota’s tax is unconstitutional.

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Want to read more? Buy the book here.