Wednesday, October 6, 2010

First Monday Firsts: An Advocate Interview

Monday was the first day of the 2010 Supreme Court Term, the first day on the bench for Justice Elena Kagan, and the first time three women have sat on the Court.  For at least one advocate, it was also the first time at the Court's lectern.

David Horan, a Yale law graduate and Jones Day-Dallas partner appointed by the Court, argued his first Supreme Court case on Monday, representing petitioner Carlos Rashad Gould in the consolidated cases, Abbott v. United States and Gould v. United States.  Though they deal with statutory interpretation, not typically a headline-grabber, the cases "will resolve an important question of federal sentencing law that has split the circuit courts and ultimately will affect how much time in prison thousands of criminal defendants will serve," per a recent ABA preview (via SCOTUSblog).  Horan, who also represented Gould below in the Fifth Circuit, spoke with me by telephone about his Supreme Court experience.

Along with arguing several times in the Fifth Circuit, as well as clerking there, Horan has also argued in the Eighth Circuit and in Texas state appellate court.  Preparing to appear in these courts and the Supreme Court is similar, he explained, "except when it isn't."  All require delving into the record and case law, anticipating questions, and preparing an effective opening.  One difference is that the prepared opening, depending on the court and case, may need to be more succinct at the Supreme Court, as questions can be expected almost immediately.

In preparing for Monday's argument, Horan found it helpful to make, and stick to, a well-defined plan, mapping out the necessary steps between cert grant and argument.  Part of that plan, which he found invaluable, was speaking with those who have recently made their first Supreme Court arguments.  Also, Horan participated in several moot courts, which revealed possible themes in the Court's questioning.

One interesting dynamic in the actual argument was that petitioners Abbott and Gould split their time, making each moment even more valuable.  Limited time notwithstanding, Horan's impression was that petitioners and the Court raised the key points at issue in the cases.

And what about Justice Kagan and her "first" on First Monday?  Though recused from Horan's case, Kagan was "active and engaged" in the day's other argument, Horan said.

[Disclosure: The author worked at Jones Day when some of Gould's briefs were filed, but had no substantive involvement in them.]