Amicus briefs are legal documents filed in appellate court cases by non-litigants with a strong interest in the subject matter. The briefs advise the court of relevant, additional information or arguments that the court might wish to consider.

An amicus curiae (literally, friend of the court; plural, amici curiae) is someone who is not a party to a case and is not solicited by a party, but who assists a court by offering information that bears on the case. The decision on whether to admit the information lies at the discretion of the court. The phrase amicus curiae is legal Latin.

 Amicus humani generis: a philanthropist (literally, friend of the human race).

 Today the American Meteorological Society joins the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists to file an amicus brief in support of the U.S. Department of Commerce, defendant, in a suit brought by Judicial Watch, Inc. This formal action of the Society prompted this (wholly personal) reflection. Three points.

Amicus brief.

Without getting too entangled in the thicket of events and actions and perceptions that is the context here, the basic history is that NOAA has publicly released the data and the methodology behind a specific scientific publication to the Congress per a request dating back many months (in the Obama administration). However, Judicial Watch, Inc. is seeking additional, privileged correspondence and preliminary material. The amicus brief argues that this is a misuse of public records laws, an unfortunate practice that is on the rise. The amicus brief maintains that the deliberative process privilege appropriately protects the confidentiality of government scientists’ correspondence and drafts.

Amicus curiae.

It’s important to note that the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the American Meteorological Society submitted this brief, unsolicited, as friends of the court, to help the court in its deliberations, to help get the legal process right. The brief happens to support the defendant in this instance, but is aimed at the larger question that justice be served. The court alone decides whether these materials are truly helpful, or are to be ignored.

Amicus humani generis.

Most of us think of philanthropy as a matter of funding, but in fact the concept is broader:

  1. altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons, by endowment of institutions of learning and hospitals, and by generosity to other socially useful purposes…
  2. an organization devoted to helping needy persons or to other socially useful purposes. [emphasis added]

One of the most satisfying aspects of being an AMS member for half a century has been the sense of belonging to an organization – a community – that sees itself as, and acts like, a friend of the entire human race. A friend of Congress – all members and staffers of Congress. Of Federal agencies. Of Courts. Private enterprise. Universities. NGOs. Of 330 million Americans, and seven billion people worldwide. Advancing science? Applying that science for the protection of lives and property in the face of natural hazards? Aiding the world in its quest for food, water, and energy and other natural resources? Helping maintain critical ecosystem services? This feels like a much needed form of friendship for the whole human race.

In a small way, this AMS amicus spirit parallels the closing thoughts shared by President Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Words to live by, especially today, when civil strife is so rampant, and so many people, of all persuasions, feel like combatants.

You can find Lincoln’s entire speech here.

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