No Funny Faces: Fed. Circuit's Rules of Decorum

By William Peacock, Esq. on August 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

I opened my inbox last week to find this tweet, forwarded to me by a friend:

The Federal Circuit's website states: "Inappropriate facial gestures or exaggerated gesticulating is forbidden." Drat.

-- Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) August 8, 2013

Curiosity piqued, I took to the Federal Circuit's website to determine the extent of this ban on facial gestures. Surely, the court is only regulating the conduct of the attorneys arguing before the court, and doing so solely in the interests of justice, right?

Not quite. Tillman's tweet actually understates the prohibition. The ban on facial gestures and "exaggerated gesticulating" extends to anyone in the court, counsel or observer, and to everyone in the lobby.

That's right. Even if you trounce the other party during oral arguments, you can't immediately run out into the lobby, stick your fingers in your ear, and do this.

But wait, there's more!

Many of the court's prohibitions make sense, such as only allowing counsel associated with the appeal being argued to address the court, requiring the traditional "all rise" whenever judges enter and exit, and even allowing security and staff to inspect and open items brought into a courtroom.

Don't try to read while the court is in session, however, unless the text is directly related to the court's business. Only once the judges have left the room are you free to pull out your John Grisham novels.

Also, "coat racks in the hallways outside the courtrooms are to be utilized." Those who wear the coats into the courtroom itself will be flogged and/or fined (we assume).

And have you purchased a laptop, tablet, or cell phone in the last decade? No recording or broadcasting devices, or cameras, "including those contained in computers and other electronic devices," are allowed in court. In fact, no computers are allowed at all, unless they belong to the counsel in argued cases. (We're unsure whether those counsel are required to drill a hole in their computers' built-in webcams.)

Finally, no dilly-dallying. Doors and passageways "should be kept clear at all times," and "[r]epeated entrances and departures are to be avoided." Those caught loitering will be forced to attend an entire day's worth of oral arguments in patent dispute appeals.

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