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What is Amicus Curiae?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2016
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An amicus curiae is someone who is not a party to a case, but who can provide information which may be relevant to the case. This term is Latin for “friend of the court.” The amicus curiae most commonly provides information in the form of a written legal brief which will be considered by the judge when weighing the facts and points of law raised during the course of the case. Many legal systems allow people to play the role of amicus curiae, although there may be some restrictions on who can be involved and when.

The amicus curiae cannot be a party to the suit. People and organizations may both act as friends of the court, as long as they do not stand to win or lose something on the basis of the outcome of the case. The amicus curiae has an interest in the case, and may have information, a perspective, or knowledge about the matter which would make the participation of the friend of the court valuable.

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Commonly, people become involved at this level when a case deals with a social justice issue. For example, in cases challenging segregation, amicus briefs both for and against segregation may be filed by people. Likewise, cases about topics like reproductive rights, extending antidiscrimination protections to marginalized populations, and protecting legal rights often provoke a flurry of amicus briefs. However, an amicus curiae can also become involved in something like a custody case, settlement of an estate, or in a wide variety of other situations.

Many advocacy organizations make it a policy to file amicus briefs in cases related to the issues which concern them, using their briefs to add insight to legal cases with the goal of advancing specific policies. Am amicus brief might, for example, bring up differing interpretations of the law or laws which pertain to the case. Even if the case ends up going against the interests of the organization, the brief remains on file and becomes part of the record, which means that it may be considered in the future or on appeal.

People who are not sure about whether or not they can file a legal brief from the position of being an amicus curiae can consult a lawyer for specific advice and assistance with filing the brief. It is important to be conscientious about the fact that such briefs cannot be filed from people who could experience losses or gains as a result of the decision. For example, a drug company could not file an amicus brief in a case where a rival was being sued if it could be demonstrated that the drug company might benefit from a particular outcome in the suit.

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