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Footnote gives citation the boot

It’s been a while since we’ve checked the opinions of Court of Appeals Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr., he of the Cheech and Chong and existentialism references.

I got to thinking about this after reading the opening paragraph of his dissent earlier this week, when the court held sloppy signatures are OK on referendum petitions.

“Evolution blessed mankind with, among other beneficial features, opposable thumbs,” Harrell began. “Perfecting the use of our thumbs, modern descendants of the first Homo Sapiens, unlike other primates, are able to sign their names, in cursive, in a legible manner. This skill requires focus and practice, as the Nuns and others taught us.”

Last month, Harrell struck a blow for sanity by questioning the legal citation process as part of an opinion on insurance policies. He cited a dissent from an earlier Court of Appeals opinion with “Murphy, C.J., dissenting” and marked it with a footnote.

“With all due respect to the Bluebook, beyond this point in this opinion, we shall omit the parenthetical “(________, J., dissenting)” from our pinpoint citation format,” Harrell wrote in Footnote 13.

Once I looked up what the Bluebook was, I about stood up and applauded. I’m all for citing sources in a paper, but the exacting commas, periods and indentations required in MLA, Chicago and other style manuals border on the tyrannical.

Harrell goes on in his footnote to, well, cite a recent law review article by federal appellate Judge Richard A. Posner titled “The Bluebook Blues.”

I have not read the nineteenth edition [of the Bluebook]. I have dipped
into it, much as one might dip one’s toes in a pail of freezing water. I am put in mind of Mr.
Kurtz’s dying words in Heart of Darkness – ‘The horror! The horror!’ – and am tempted to
end there. …When I was a law student, The Bluebook was in its tenth edition
(published in 1958) and had grown to 124 pages. In the fifty-two years since, it has
increased in length by almost four hundred percent. As a result, it is even less valuable than it was a half-century ago. The nineteenth edition is twice as long as the sixteenth. Will this mindless growth ever cease?

Amen.