This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.
Restyled Civil Rules Win Burton Award
Remove ambiguous language. Replace archaic words and legal jargon.
Root out inconsistent and stilted usage. Minimize the use of superfluous
intensifiers, redundant words, and unnecessary cross-references. The
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have emerged from a four-year
comprehensive style revision with their language clarified, simplified,
and modernized—and without changes to their substantive meaning.
The simplification brings to a close the first
comprehensive rewrite of the federal civil rules in the nearly 70 years
they have been in existence. The restyled Rules of Appellate Procedure
took effect in 1998 and restyled Rules of Criminal Procedure took effect
in 2002. The Rules of Civil Procedure were slated third, recognizing
that they would be more difficult because they are older, longer, and
have been amended more often since they became effective. The four years
required for the work attests to just how difficult it was.
The rewritten civil rules were approved by the Judicial
Conference in September 2006 and transmitted to the Supreme Court. The
Court approved the rules and sent them to Congress on April 30. If
Congress does not enact legislation to reject, modify, or defer them,
the revised rules will take effect as a matter of law on December 1,
This latest facelift was the responsibility of the
Judicial Conference Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and
Procedure and the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, both composed of
federal judges, practicing lawyers, law professors, state chief
justices, and representatives of the Department of Justice. Each
committee has a reporter, a law professor, who is responsible for
coordinating the committee’s agenda and drafting appropriate amendments
to the rules and explanatory committee notes. Staff from the Office of
Judges Programs, Administrative Office, supported the project.
A comparison of the existing and
restyled rules makes the case for
the changes. As an example, the
present Rule 8(e)(2) says:
When two or more statements are
made in the alternative and one
of them if made independently
would be sufficient, the pleading
is not made insufficient by the
insufficiency of one or more of the
The same rule, restyled:
If a party makes alternative state-
ments, the pleading is sufficient
if any one of them is sufficient.
They all obviously did a stellar job. Earlier this month
the restyled civil rules project was recognized by the prestigious
Burton Awards for Legal Achievement with the 2007 Reform in Law Award.
Provided in association with the Library of Congress and the Law Library
of Congress, the award was given to the Advisory Committee on Civil
Rules, which carried out the project; the Standing Committee on Rules of
Practice and Procedure, and Professor Joseph Kimble from Thomas Cooley
Law School, who served as drafting consultant. Judge Lee Rosenthal (S.D.
Tex.), chair of the Civil Rules Committee, accepted the award on its
behalf. Judge Thomas W. Thrash, (N.D. Ga.), who serves on the Standing
Committee and on its three-member Style Subcommittee, accepted the award
for the Standing Committee.
The civil rules, which were described by Judge Edward T.
Gignoux, former chair of the Rules Committee, as “among the most
significant accomplishments of American jurisprudence,” originally took
effect in September 1938. “The age, length, and complexity of the civil
rules make the benefits of restyling even more valuable and important,”
said Rosenthal. “If we had not done this work, the rules would have
become progressively more difficult to understand and use.”
Some changes impacted entire blocks of text. Others were
as simple as changing “infant” to “minor.” Dense block paragraphs and
lengthy sentences were replaced with shorter sentences, progressively
indented paragraphs, descriptive headings, and lots of white space. The
rule numbers remain unchanged.
Every change to the civil rules language was analyzed and
documented, scrutinized and reviewed. Originally, there was some
concern that a rewrite might change the substance of the rules, bringing
on litigation to determine meaning. “In all cases the rules restyling
is intended to be stylistic only,” said Chief Judge David F. Levi, (E.D.
Calif.), chair of the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and
Procedure. “There was little risk that the restyled rules would cause
inadvertent changes in the meaning of the rules. The relationship
between the civil rules and existing laws is unchanged.”
The Federal Rules of Appellate, Bankruptcy, Criminal, and
Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence govern procedure,
practice, and evidence in the federal courts. Under the Rules Enabling
Act, the Judiciary is authorized to prescribe therules of the federal