LawProse Lesson #163: Can a case “hold” something?

LawProse Lesson #163: Can a case “hold” something?

Can a case “hold” something? Yes. It’s fine to write that a certain case held something {Erie held . . .}, rather than to say that the court, in that case, held such and such {The court in Erie held . . .}. This practice is an innocuous form of hypallage, which is a figure of speech in which the proper subject is displaced by what would rightfully be the object. But be careful not to personify cases: cases might hold something, but they cannot cite or reason or argue. So not this: Erie reasoned that . . . , or this: Erie argued . . . . In those instances, write: the court reasoned that . . . , or the court in Erie cited . . . . On a related topic, when hold is used properly in the legal sense (signifying “to decide”), this verb describes what judges do. It is therefore transitive. Judges don’t just do; they do something. So hold should not be used intransitively to describe how judges do rather than what they do. Courts hold something; they do not hold in a certain manner {This court’s task is to decide what [not how] the Maine state courts would hold when faced with that issue}. In general English usage, of course, the intransitive use of hold is quite acceptable in clauses such as the argument does not hold. Further reading: Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 137-38, 411, 416 (s.v. hypallage) (3d ed. 2011). Thanks to Christopher W. Shishko for suggesting this topic.

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