Friday, January 19, 2018

When to use Introductory Signals

Introductory signals, small__4983464182discussed in Bluebook rules 1.2 and B3, describe the relevance of the cited authority to the proposition stated in your text. The Bluebook divides the universe of signals into five categories: (a) signals that indicate support, (b) signals that suggest a useful comparison, (c) signals that indicate contradiction, (d) signals that indicate background material, and (e) signals used as verbs.

The following post discusses each of the five categories and provides some guidance on their appropriate use. All of the examples are pulled from United States Supreme Court decisions and should provide better context for how each signal is used in legal writing.

I. Signals that Indicate Support – Rule 1.2(a)

No Signal

No signal is needed if any of the following are true:

i.              The cited authority directly states the proposition being advanced;

ii.             The cited authority identifies the source of a quotation; or

iii.            The cited authority identifies an authority referred to in the text.

In other words, if you are directly quoting or paraphrasing a statement made by the cited source, no signal is required.


The Constitution grants Congress the power to “regulate Commerce.” Art. I, § 8, cl. 3.



E.g.,” is used to introduce a source that is representative of many authorities that state the same proposition. “E.g.” is the abbreviation for exempli gratia in Latin and means “for example.” It is often used in conjunction with a “see” signal and used as a “quick way to say: ‘I’m citing one or two sources but there are a bunch I could cite.’” Gallagher Law Library, Powerpoint Presentation, Bluebook 101: Introductory Signals 4 (Nov. 2007).


The Federal Government has expanded dramatically over the past two centuries, but it still must show that a constitutional grant of power authorizes each of its actions. See, e.g., United States v. Comstock, 130 S. Ct. 1949 (2010).

Our cases refer to this general power of governing, possessed by the States but not by the Federal Government, as the “police power.” See, e.g., United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 618-19 (2000).



Use “accord” when two or more sources state the same proposition but your text is referring only to one of the sources.


Two other Courts of Appeals have likewise read our decision in Faretta as requiring that a trial judge conduct a special “hearing to ensure that the accused understands the dangers and disadvantages of proceeding pro se.” United States v. Edwards, 716 F.2d 822, 824 (11th Cir. 1983); accord United States v. Chaney, 662 F.2d 1148, 1152 (5th Cir. 1981).



See” is used when the reader is required to take an inferential step between what the cited authority states and the proposition it is offered in support of. If the cited authority clearly supports the proposition but does not directly state it, “see” should be used. “See” is probably the most commonly used signal.

A good way to determine whether a “see” signal is required is to ask yourself whether the reader will need to be given an explanation to justify the connection between the cited authority and the stated proposition. If the answer is yes, a “see” signal is most likely required.


As in the discrimination context, we have developed an evidentiary framework for evaluating claims under § 1 of the Sherman Act when those claims rest on entirely circumstantial evidence of conspiracy. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986).


See also

Use “see also” when the cited authority is being used to provide additional implicit support, “especially after other supporting authorities have been cited and discussed.” Helene S. Shapo et al., Writing and Analysis in the Law 533 (5th ed. 2008).


Until today, “the admissions or confessions of the prisoner, when voluntarily and freely made, have always ranked high in the scale of incriminating evidence.” Brown v. Walker, 161 U.S. 591, 596 (1896); see also Hopt v. Territory of Utah, 110 U.S. 574, 584-85 (1884).



This close cousin of “see” stands for “confer” in Latin and translates to “compare.” Use “cf.” in situations where the cited source does not directly or implicitly support the assertion made but is sufficiently analogous to lend support. It is good practice to include an explanatory parenthetical along with this signal to explain the source’s relevance.

Note: Do not confuse “cf.” with the “compare” signal. “Cf.” is not used to make direct comparisons between multiple sources and should never be used in conjunction with a “with” or “and” signal.


Finally, there may be still other circumstances in which safety or evidentiary interests would justify a search. Cf. Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 334 (1990) (holding that, incident to arrest, an officer may conduct a limited protective sweep of those areas of a house in which he reasonably suspects a dangerous person may be hiding).


Conceptualizing Supporting Signals

When a particular signal is appropriate depends on how far removed the stated proposition is from the statement made in the cited source. The Figure 1 illustrates this. When the cited authority and the stated proposition are nearly identical, no signal is needed; as the stated proposition requires more and more inferential steps, “see,” and then “cf.” will be appropriate.

Continuum of Supportive Signals

Figure 1 – Continuum of Supportive Signals


II. Signals that Suggest a Useful Comparison – Rule 1.2(b)

Compare . . . [and] . . . with . . . [and] . . .

The use of “compare,” “and,” and “with” as signals allows you to directly compare multiple sources with each other. “Compare” must be used in conjunction with “with,” and additional sources can be linked on either side of the comparison with “and.” The Bluebook strongly recommends an explanatory parenthetical following each authority.


Since we decided Belton, Courts of Appeals have given different answers to the question whether a vehicle must be within an arrestee’s reach to justify a vehicle search incident to arrest. Compare United States v. Green, 324 F.3d 375, 379 (5th Cir. 2003) (holding that Belton did not authorize a search of an arrestee’s vehicle when he was handcuffed and lying facedown on the ground surrounded by four police officers 6–to–10 feet from the vehicle), and United States v. Vasey, 834 F.2d 782, 787 (9th Cir. 1987) (finding unauthorized a vehicle search conducted 30–to–45 minutes after an arrest and after the arrestee had been handcuffed and secured in the back of a police car), with United States v. Hrasky, 453 F.3d 1099, 1102 (8th Cir. 2006) (upholding a search conducted an hour after the arrestee was apprehended and after he had been handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car).

III. Signals used to Indicate Contradiction – Rule 1.2(c)


This signal is used to indicate that the cited proposition directly contradicts the stated proposition. “Contra” is the polar opposite of no signal and is used when no inferential step is needed to establish that the cited authority contradicts the stated proposition. It is a useful way to acknowledge that the cited source comes down on the other side of proposition you are advancing without drawing too much attention.


Accordingly, lower courts have held that unconstitutional suppression of exculpatory evidence is beyond the scope of “duties constituting an integral part of the judicial process” and have refused to extend absolute immunity to suits based on such claims. Hilliard v. Williams, 465 F.2d 1212, 1218 (6th Cir. 1972); Haaf v. Grams, 355 F. Supp. 542, 545 (Minn. 1973). Contra Barnes v. Dorsey, 480 F.2d 1057 (8th Cir. 1973).


But see

But see” functions as the “evil twin” of “see.” It is used when the cited source implicitly or in dicta contradicts the stated proposition.


The Federal Courts of Appeals have reached the same conclusion in applying the federal hearsay rule. United States v. Garnett, 122 F.3d 1016, 1018-19 (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam); United States v. Gilbert, 774 F.2d 962, 965 (9th Cir. 1985) (per curiam); United States v. Ware, 247 F.2d 698, 699-700 (7th Cir. 1957); but see United States v. Oates, 560 F.2d 45, 82 (2d Cir. 1977) (report prepared by law enforcement not admissible under public-records or business-records exceptions to federal hearsay rule).


But cf.

But cf.” is appropriate when the cited authority supports a proposition analogous to statement that contradicts the stated proposition.


Of the state courts that have addressed the question, the majority have reached that conclusion as well. See, e.g., Love v. State, 138 S.W.3d 676, 680 (2003); but cf. State v. Leach, 782 P.2d 1035, 1040 (1989) (en banc) (requiring consent of all present co-occupants).


Relationship between Supporting and Contradicting Signals

The following table summarizes the relationship between supporting and contradicting signals.

Relationship between Supporting and Contradicting Signals

Relationship between Supporting and Contradicting Signals


IV. Signals used to Indicate Background Material – Rule 1.2(d)

See generally

See generally” is used to indicate that the cited source provides useful general background information. Pinpoint citations are not required when citing to a source in its entirety. “See generally” should be accompanied by an explanatory parenthetical.


The ESA . . . seeks to protect species of animals against threats to their continuing existence caused by man. See generally TVA v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153 (1978).


V. Signals used as Verbs – Rule 1.2(e)

When any of these introductory signals is used as a verb in a sentence that contains a citation, they are not italicized and are not abbreviated—”e.g.,” is written out as “for example,” and “cf.” is written out as “compare.”


For more examples, see 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 451 (1765) (listing other common law age cutoffs with no apparent statutory basis).

For example, in Fairchild v. Hughes, 258 U.S. 126, 129-130 (1922), we dismissed a suit challenging the propriety of the process by which the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.


photo credit: Teleyinex via photopin cc

Disclaimer: The statements and views expressed in this posting are my own and do not reflect those of my law firm. They are intended for general informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion.


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