by McKenzie Edwards and Stephani Michel
The legal profession has a reputation for being resistant to change. Despite this, a recently proposed modification to the Bluebook’s citation rules has rapidly infiltrated the legal community.Jack Metzler, Cleaning up Quotations, 18 J. App. Prac. & Process 143 (Fall 2017); see generally @SCOTUSPlaces, Twitter, … Continue reading This new citation method—the “(cleaned up)” parenthetical—gives authors permission to take out brackets, ellipses, or other quotation clutter to increase readability. You read that right: with this rule, the days of “[q]uotations complete[ly] ‘tortured by “punctuation . . . and clutter” are’ over.” It also means no more monstrous citation paragraphs that can cause even a dedicated reader’s eyes to glaze over.
While the Bluebook has not yet authorized the parenthetical, other authoritative sources have, including the Supreme Court of the United States. Earlier this year, in Brownback v. King, 141 S. Ct. 740 (2021), Justice Thomas included a citation that quoted and “(cleaned up)” language from another opinion.The Brownback opinion read: “Under that doctrine as it existed in 1946, a judgment is ‘on the merits’ if the underlying decision ‘actually passes directly on the substance of a particular … Continue reading Id. at 748. This adoption came after every federal appeals court, and three-quarters of the federal district courts, had already done so.Debra Cassens Weiss, Justice Thomas Goes Rogue on the Bluebook with “Cleaned Up” Citation—to the Delight of Appellate Lawyers, A.B.A. J. (Mar. 15, 2021), … Continue reading In Texas, the majority of appellate courts have blessed (cleaned up). A practice guide listing which Texas judges—state appellate and federal—have adopted (cleaned up) has been included for reference.
Using (Cleaned Up)
The Bluebook’s Rule 5 tells authors how to use quotations from other material. But the Bluebook’s instructions are often complicated and fraught in the face of multilevel quotations that include various alterations. Many legal writers find the prospect of properly incorporating and citing multilevel quotations daunting. And even the strongest quote loses its force when it is littered with quotation clutter (e.g., brackets, ellipses, internal quotation marks, and several rounds of “citing” and “quoting” other cases). As an author, writing sentences filled with such clutter is not an easy or enjoyable task. The readers who must digest these cluttered sentences, however, face an even more difficult—and unenjoyable—challenge.There are, of course, benefits to using the traditional approach. See infra. This is a problem for legal writers, who need to grab and hold a reader’s attention.
The solution? Use (cleaned up), which allows the author to remove quotation clutter and present the quote in a more reader-friendly way, while simultaneously instructing the reader to return to the source material for context or additional information.
The parenthetical itself is easy to use. When quoting language from an opinion that itself quotes another opinion, enclose the language within a single set of quotation marks. Leave out any brackets, ellipses, internal quotation marks, internal citations, and footnote reference numbers from the earlier citations. Capitalize the first letter of the quotation if it begins the sentence; make it lower case if it does not. Cite the source of the quotation as if the words were original to the court being cited, and add “(cleaned up)” to the citation. Consider this example involving a triple-nested quote:This example comes from a footnote in a recent dissenting opinion. See Smith v. Titus, 141 S. Ct. 982, 988 n.8 (2021) (Sotomayor, J., dissenting).
Original citation: White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 427 (2014) (AEDPA does not “requir[e] an ‘ “identical factual pattern before a legal rule must be applied,” ’ ” and “state courts must reasonably apply the rules ‘squarely established’ by this Court’s holdings to the facts of each case”).
(cleaned up) citation: White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 427 (2014) (AEDPA does not “require an identical factual pattern before a legal rule must be applied,” and “state courts must reasonably apply the rules squarely established by this Court’s holdings to the facts of each case”) (cleaned up).
The Bluebook and (Cleaned Up)
The (cleaned up) parenthetical is not a significant departure from accepted Bluebook rules. Rule 5.2 permits authors to use certain parentheticals, like “(citation omitted),” “(footnote omitted),” and “(alteration in original),” to indicate author-made alterations to quoted text.The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation R. 5.2, at 84-86 (Columbia L. Rev. Ass’n et al. eds., 21st ed. 2020). But Rule 5.2 requires a separate parenthetical for each type of alteration.Rule 1.5(b) demonstrates how cumbersome this requirement can become. For a citation containing multiple nested quotations and alterations, the Bluebook-proper citation clause may require: (date) … Continue reading It also requires authors to keep clutter from the nested quotations in text—even though references to the nested opinion producing the internal quotation marks or alterations are omitted. This can create confusion for readers, who see various in-text alterations without knowing what source material the author is altering.
(Cleaned up) resolves this problem. It resembles Rule 5.2’s (citations omitted) parenthetical in that writers can avoid lengthy string cites and direct readers to the source material for additional context. But (cleaned up) streamlines the citation process by condensing the various Bluebook-sanctioned parentheticals into a singular parenthetical and “cleaning up” what the reader sees in text. It gives the reader notice of alterations from the original and tells the reader where to look for context about which courts or scholars have said this before, while allowing the author to remove extraneous, distracting information from the writing’s body.
In recent years, some lawyers have adopted an approach somewhere between the Bluebook and (cleaned up): using Bluebook-approved language in a non-authorized manner to simplify citation sentences. For example, authors may include a single parenthetical stating “(internal quotation marks and citations omitted)” or “(citation and punctuation omitted)” to indicate that they have made multiple alterations to quoted text. While these parentheticals use language the Bluebook allows, i.e., “citations omitted” or “quotation marks omitted,” they circumvent the Bluebook’s technical requirements that each alteration be noted in a separate parenthetical and that the alterations remain in-text.Both (cleaned up) and the Bluebook-friendly parentheticals have been dubbed “Emerging Variant Practice[s]” within the legal community. See Peter W. Martin, Introduction to Basic Legal Citation, … Continue reading Even so, this Bluebook-friendly version of citation simplification might be more palatable for some lawyers and judges. That language is familiar; (cleaned up) is not. If a lawyer is interested in cleaning up quotations but hesitant about using “(cleaned up)” in their writing, consider trying this Bluebook-friendly version first.
The Cons of (Cleaned Up)
Though (cleaned up) has many benefits, it is not without flaws. For one, disingenuous authors can use the parenthetical to mislead their readers. The omissions of references to source documents and parentheticals delineating the specific alterations made to quotations are key features of (cleaned up). And while the parenthetical should signal that the listed citation references additional sources that might be helpful for context, the onus is on the reader to follow the listed citation to those sources. Knowing that some readers may not independently check the source material, authors could attempt to misleadingly alter quotations, hide citations to overruled cases, infer that the quoted language is attributable to a line of case law when it really comes from a secondary source, or generally use the parenthetical to slide questionable items past readers. But as this risk is present with any citation method, adroit legal readers need not fear they will fall victim to a misleading (cleaned up) quote.
Second, using (cleaned up) lessens the reader’s ability to immediately draw on the quoted material’s context. With full citations, the reader can tell what courts’ opinions the author is quoting from, how recent those courts’ decisions are, and whether the decisions have been overturned. But with (cleaned up), all the reader knows is that it must follow the cited source to investigate that context. For this reason, using (cleaned up) may hinder an author’s ability to quickly signal that a holding is well-established or that its quote is from a much-cited opinion. It is probably preferable not to use (cleaned up) for particularly compelling citations.
Finally, the Bluebook has not adopted (cleaned up), so some authors may feel uncomfortable using this new approach to legal citations. Though most courts have embraced (cleaned up), there is always a risk that a judge will prefer the traditional citation method. Other than the potential of hindering a document’s readability, there is no harm in adhering to the Bluebook method to assuage this risk. There is also no harm in using a Bluebook-friendly version of (cleaned up) if doing so is preferable.
(Cleaned up) has been a hot topic among lawyers for several years. But with the majority of courts—including the Supreme Court—now using the parenthetical in opinions, lawyers should recognize the parenthetical when they come across it and know what it means. They should also feel comfortable transitioning away from the Bluebook’s multi-parenthetical, altered-text system and adopting the (cleaned up) method. So long as lawyers use (cleaned up) responsibly, taking special care not to mislead their readers with hidden alterations or suspect citations, the parenthetical can help make legal writing accessible to readers.Table for Cleaned Up
|↑1||Jack Metzler, Cleaning up Quotations, 18 J. App. Prac. & Process 143 (Fall 2017); see generally @SCOTUSPlaces, Twitter, https://twitter.com/SCOTUSPlaces?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor.|
|↑2||The Brownback opinion read: “Under that doctrine as it existed in 1946, a judgment is ‘on the merits’ if the underlying decision ‘actually passes directly on the substance of a particular claim before the court.’ Id., at 501-502, 121 S. Ct. 1021 (cleaned up).” In the aftermath of this opinion, the Dean of #AppellateTwitter declared “total victory . . . for (cleaned up)” and its originator, Jack Metzler. See Raffi Melkonian (@RMFifthCircuit), Twitter (Feb. 25, 2021, 10:06 AM), https://twitter.com/RMFifthCircuit/status/1364970084314316813.|
|↑3||Debra Cassens Weiss, Justice Thomas Goes Rogue on the Bluebook with “Cleaned Up” Citation—to the Delight of Appellate Lawyers, A.B.A. J. (Mar. 15, 2021), https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/justice-thomas-goes-rogue-on-the-bluebook-with-cleaned-up-citation-to-the-delight-of-appellate-lawyers; see also Jack Metzler (@SCOTUSPlaces), Twitter (Aug. 30, 2021, 4:16 PM), https://twitter.com/SCOTUSPlaces/status/1432452165017251847?s=20 (“BREAKING: (Cleaned up) has officially swept the entire nation, appearing in judicial decisions issued by courts in all 50 states & DC.”).|
|↑4||There are, of course, benefits to using the traditional approach. See infra.|
|↑5||This example comes from a footnote in a recent dissenting opinion. See Smith v. Titus, 141 S. Ct. 982, 988 n.8 (2021) (Sotomayor, J., dissenting).|
|↑6||The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation R. 5.2, at 84-86 (Columbia L. Rev. Ass’n et al. eds., 21st ed. 2020).|
|↑7||Rule 1.5(b) demonstrates how cumbersome this requirement can become. For a citation containing multiple nested quotations and alterations, the Bluebook-proper citation clause may require: (date) [hereinafter short name] (en banc) (Lastname, J., concurring) (plurality opinion) (per curiam) (alteration in original) (emphasis added) (footnote omitted) (citations omitted) (quoting another source) (citing another source), http://www.domainname.com (last visited) (explanatory parenthetical), prior or subsequent history. The Bluebook, supra note 6, R. 1.5(b), at 66.|
|↑8||Both (cleaned up) and the Bluebook-friendly parentheticals have been dubbed “Emerging Variant Practice[s]” within the legal community. See Peter W. Martin, Introduction to Basic Legal Citation, Cornell Univ. Legal Info. Institute § 6-100 (2020), https://www.law.cornell.edu/citation/6-100.|