Right now, our first-year students are finalizing their trial-level briefs in the LAWR 2 course. We’ve been discussing when to capitalize certain words in a brief. Here are the general rules according to the 18th edition of the Bluebook. (Rule 8 and B10.6):
1. When to capitalize references to a court:
- Referring to the U.S. Supreme Court (by full name or “the Court”)
- Referring to a court by its proper name (“the Wisconsin Supreme Court”)
- Referring to the court reading your brief (“this Court should find”)
- But NOT capitalized: Referring to a precedent decision (“In 1977, the Shepard court held”)
2. When to capitalize party designations:
- Capitalize references to parties in the current action.
- Example: “Defendant Carlson failed to stop at the intersection and hit Plaintiff Jordan’s car.”
- Note that when referring to a party without adding their last name, add the word “the.” See Anne Enquist & Laurel Oates, Just Writing 265 (3d ed. 2009).
- Example: “Plaintiff Ludke alleges that the Defendant committed theft by contractor.”
3. Capitalize the specific titles of court documents, but not generic references to court documents.
- Example: “In the Plaintiff’s Brief in Support of His Motion to Dismiss”
- Example: ”The Court’s order provided that”
4. When to capitalize references to a constitution:
- Capitalize “Constitution” when referring to the U.S. Constitution or another constitution by its full name.
- In a generic reference, the Wisconsin Constitution becomes “the constitution,” but the United States Constitution is still capitalized as “the Constitution.”
5. When to capitalize references to a state:
- Capitalize “state” when referring to the state as a party to litigation (“the State brought this action”)
- Capitalize the full title of a state or the word it modifies is capitalized (“the State of Kansas”)
6. When to capitalize certain nouns:
- Capitalize nouns referring to “specific persons, officials, groups, government offices, or government bodies” (the FDA or Congress)
- Capitalize acts when referring to a specific act by name (the National Labor Relations Act)
- Capitalize specific codes (the 1959 Code)
- Capitalize circuits when using a number (the Seventh Circuit)
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