The Bluebook’s Treatment of Court Rules

From its first appearance in 2000, the ALWD manual (now “guide”) has furnished both a format for and examples of citations to state court rules.  Through successive editions, such little coverage as The Bluebook has given citation of court rules, however, has focused on the rules governing proceedings in federal courts.  Up through the twentieth edition, published five years ago, there was, at least, a nod toward the existence of state rules in the form of one example “Del. Ct. C.P.R. 8(f).”  Over time, that illustration became a curious, even an embarrassing, one, since for over a decade it bore no obvious connection to an existing Delaware court rule.  Nonetheless, “Del. Ct. C.P.R.” sat, undisturbed, between “1st Cir. R. 6(a)” and “Fed. R. Evid. 410” through multiple Bluebook editions since at least the fourteenth (1986).  (How much cite checking of examples goes into the updating of The Bluebook?)  The twenty-first edition, published this year, could have fixed the Delaware example.  (Citations to “Del. Super. Ct. C.P.R.” and “Del. Fam. Ct. C.P.R.” appear in contemporary decisions of that state’s courts.)  It could have replaced the Delaware example with one from a state like Texas where the court rules and their citation map closely onto the federal model (e.g., “Tex. R. Civ. P.”).  Instead, it provides no state example.  The only guidance offered in its pages, white or blue, is the advice, preceding the Rule 12.9.3 list of examples, to “[u]se abbreviations such as the following or abbreviations suggested by the rules themselves.”

The Bluebook’s Table 1, a catalog of “abbreviations and citation conventions” for the primary legal materials of all fifty states, fails to cure the omission.  State court rules are not among its categories.

If The Bluebook didn’t purport to provide “guidance for the everyday citation needs of … summer associates, law clerks, practicing lawyers, and other legal professionals” (to quote from its introduction) this lacuna might be excusable.  Little academic writing in the four law journals responsible for The Bluebook’s production concerns state law, let alone the rules of state courts.  Federal rules of judicial procedure and evidence do receive some discussion and therefore citation in their pages, but almost never a civil procedure rule of, say, Missouri or Texas.  As The Bluebook acknowledges in the preface to Table 1, “[t]he abbreviations and citation conventions … [it contains] are primarily intended to serve a national audience.” 

State style manuals (California, New York) do address the citation of their own state’s court rules.  For them it is an inescapable topic.  Citations to a state’s rules governing civil or criminal trial proceedings, evidence, and appeals are critical elements of in-state memorandum, brief, order, and opinion writing.  The Bluebook devotes five times the space to “Model Codes, Principles, Restatements, Standards, Sentencing Guidelines, and Uniform Acts” that it does “Rules of Evidence and Procedure.”  The ratio reasonably reflects the importance of the respective sources to elite law journals.  By contrast, in court opinions and briefs there are, perhaps, a hundred court rule citations to one of a restatement.

The difficult truth is that there is no nationally observed template for state court rule citations.  Rarely are they cited outside the jurisdiction to which they apply.  An Ohio court rule citation must be intelligible to an Ohio attorney or judge.  It need not be written with a Kentucky lawyer or judge in mind (and vice versa).  An Ohio judge will understand that a citation to “Crim.R. 32(C)” invokes Rule 32(C) of the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure.  “CR 23.01” directs a Kentucky judge or lawyer straight to Rule 23.01 of that state’s rules of civil procedure.  In both instances the jurisdiction is implied, not named.  More commonly state rule citations do include an abbreviation of the state name.  States adhering to this practice include California (e.g., “Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.421(a)(1)”), Illinois (e.g., “Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 341”), New York (e.g., “22 NYCRR § 806.13”), and Texas (e.g., “TEX. R. CIV. P. 322”).  As those examples illustrate, even among jurisdictions where rule citations include explicit reference to the state, formats vary.  Some conform to the pattern employed for federal rule citations and adapted by the ALWD guide to state rules.  Some do not.

What advice should a citation reference provide about this important category of primary legal material, advice that will assist “summer associates, law clerks, practicing lawyers, and other legal professionals” with their “everyday citation needs?” 

  • First, when citing a rule governing federal court proceedings, a citation in the standard format exemplified by “Fed. R. Crim. P. 16” should be appropriate across the country.
  • Second, when citing a rule governing state court proceedings within that state the best guide to acceptable format will be recent decisions of that state’s highest court.
  • Third, the online research systems’ copy-with-citation functions are of no help on this point.  None of them picks up on local norms for citing court rules.

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