Amicus, Amica, or Amicum – Which is your friend?

December 3, 2010

Eugene Volokh’s brief review of our SCT-BRIEF database yielded just 7 amica curiae, that’s “amica” as in singular feminine for friend of the court.   Should we be changing the gender and number of the Latin word as needed?  Like other Romance languages, gender and case change word endings. I’m a little rusty on my Latin.  It’s been 11 years but I found my former Latin teacher.  He confirmed for me the endings for Amicus Curiae:

Singular Male – Amicus Curiae

Plural Male – Amici Curiae

Singular Female – Amica Curiae

Plural Female – Amicae Curiae

Thus, an amicus curiae brief filed by a group of female law professors would be correctly termed an “amicae curiae” brief. So, can this affect your research? Yes. A search of Amicus Curiae in the Document Title field in U.S. Supreme Court Briefs database returns over 20,000 results,  including both Amicus and Amici briefs.  When we eliminate the Amicus Curiae the search retrieves 6813 briefs that are titled Amici Curiae.

dt(“amicus curiae”) % dt(“#amicus curiae”) (6813 Docs)

Note the #-sign ensures Westlaw only delivers the plural.  Why not just run dt(amici)?  We wanted to test whether Westlaw delivered the plural on the latin. We discovered it does for amicus but not for amica.  What gives?  We’re reporting this.  For now, try:

dt(amicae amica +2 curiae): 12 results

There was some discussion amongst my colleagues why we couldn’t just have gender neutral terms, this being the 21st century and all. According to the Notre Dame Online Latin Dictionary, the word amicus not only has a masculine and feminine ending, but also a neutered ending. Therefore, couldn’t one use the neutered ending to create the following?:

Singular – Amicum Curiae

Plural – Amica Curiae

This would eliminate the need to switch endings depending on the gender of the person/people filing the brief.

A final option would be to follow the example of the Federal Government with its Plain Language initiative. This would entail eliminate the Latin phrase all together and replacing it with “friend of the court.” People wouldn’t need to worry about which endings to use and would make the law slightly more accessible to the general public. Of course, we would lose the beautiful language that is Latin.

Wow, that’s a lot of Latin discussion. I think I’m going to go read Iliad in the original Greek.

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