Filing a brief is another way for organizations and lawmakers to demonstrate that they are actively fighting for the interests of their members and constituencies. And, especially with a prominent case like health care reform, they can be a powerful fundraising tool.
"These high-profile cases are very attractive," said University of California, Merced political science professor Tom Hansford.
Indeed, it may even make investing in a brief -- a white shoe law firm can charge more than $100,000 -- worth the time and money.
Still, filing an amicus brief may end up impressing a group's members more than the justices themselves, particularly in this case. The sheer number of briefs -- one expert said the case could set a record with more than 100 -- makes it less likely that any one brief will catch a justice's attention.
But that's not to say the briefs have no impact. Although justices have said they rarely read them, clerks distill the arguments and highlight particularly notable and informative ones, said Paul Collins, an assistant political science professor at University of North Texas.
There have been times when language from amicus briefs has shown up in the justices' opinions, Hansford said, suggesting that the briefs sometimes do play an important role in decisions.
"There's some effect here, but it shouldn't be overblown," Hansford said.
The best briefs, experts say, stand out with original legal analysis and spotlight how certain constituencies -- patients and businesses, for example -- will be impacted by the court's decision. The parties try to minimize repetitive, "me-too" briefs.
"If we don't have something that isn't unique and helpful, it isn't worth the time and effort," said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, which is filing an amicus in support of the health care law.
To have more impact, each side tries to organize its supporters' arguments. The parties arguing each side have limited space to make their case so it's up to the supporting groups to expand on their side's argument, said Karen Harned, the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business's Small Business Legal Center. The NFIB has sued in opposition to the law.
Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, said he has been working to coordinate with groups opposed to the law to ensure that all the necessary arguments are covered.
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