Century fonts / US Supreme Court

butterick's picture

The US Supreme Court requires briefs to be set in "Century family (e.g., Century Expanded, New Cen­tury Schoolbook, or Century Schoolbook)". (Times New Roman is not acceptable.)

What are the preferred Century fonts out there? I like Font Bureau's Benton Modern, which is derived from Century Expanded, but it's not called "Century" and thus wouldn't meet Supreme Court requirements.

Nick Shinn's picture

Century Oldstyle would be legally correct, and perhaps Blue Century?

kentlew's picture

So, is the specification that it be *named* Century? Or that it be specifically a member of the original Century family? Does Century Oldstyle, which is quite different from the others, qualify? That is to say, is that “e.g.” meant to be restrictive?

Or, can it be “derived from a Century”? And how far can you go before it no longer qualifies, as Nick’s tongue-in-cheek example poses? (That was tongue in cheek, right, Nick?)

You’ve seen a beta of my bland Primeresque exploration — if I name it some variant of “Century” and bring it to market quickly, can I capitalize on all the upcoming court cases? Would anyone there be able to tell the differences? ;-)

And who among the Court or its staff is empowered (and qualified) to make these judgments?

Have you been contracted to consult on these matters? ;-)

aluminum's picture

Having worked for the Judicial branch, all I can do is roll my eyes and empathize and the absurdity of these rules.

butterick's picture

As I read the rule, "Century family" means "a font with Century in the name," since that's the pattern of the fonts in the "e.g." list. But I wouldn't consider the e.g. list exhaustive — certainly if the Supreme Court only wanted to accept those three Century variants, it would say so.

That said, only a numbnut lawyer would pick a Century that's outside the realm of the traditional Century look. However, there are still dozens of competing cuts of traditional Century designs. I haven't spent enough time with them to form an opinion about their relative merits.

I haven't been contracted to figure this out. But I was talking to an attorney yesterday who was part of a team that was filing a petition in the Supreme Court. They had set everything in Times New Roman and at the last minute someone noticed the Century requirement. A scramble to find a Century font ensued. (Lesson: read the rules first.)

This isn't a mainstream issue in legal typography because relative to the profession as a whole, very few lawyers will ever file a document in the Supreme Court. But it's not trivial, either — about 8000 petitions are filed each year with the Supreme Court, all of which have to conform to the court's typographic requirements, which are the most detailed in the nation.

Traditionalists will be glad to hear that the Supreme Court still endorses "hot metal" typesetting.

http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/supct/33.html

Richard Fink's picture

What font do they publish their opinions in?

aluminum's picture

"And who among the Court or its staff is empowered (and qualified) to make these judgments?"

I worked at the state level. Who's empowered? The judges. They make the rules. Qualified? Well, in the realm of typography and technology...umm...no one.

To be fair, many of these rules are probably decades and decades old and have just been sitting in the rules of court of eons without anyone noticing them.

riccard0's picture

I would use Century Gothic.

;-)

butterick's picture

Who's empowered? The judges. They make the rules. Qualified? Well, in the realm of typography and technology...umm...no one.

Having looked at typographic rules from courts around the country, I can assure you that as a blanket proposition, this is wrong. It ranks with other popular misconceptions like "judges prefer documents written in stodgy legalese."

Yes, there are courts that seem to be happy with the typewriter-based rules of 50 years ago. There are plenty of others that take it quite seriously. For example, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is a very well-respected jurist and also a fan of good typography:

http://typo.la/7th

As I posted in another thread recently, the Utah Supreme Court recently redesigned its opinions with better typography:

http://typo.la/ub
http://typo.la/ua

I've found that people outside the legal profession are more likely to be skeptical about the possibilities of legal typography than those inside it.

aluminum's picture

yes, yes, well said butterick.

I was certainly stereotyping from my own person experience with a subset of the court system. My main gripe wasn't even that the typography rules were outdated, but that they had typography rules at all. It caused all sorts of inefficiencies when dealing with text as data and XML and the sort.

As for Utah's opinions, they are PDFs. Again, one of my gripes about the rules. (Also, are you sure those are redesigned? They appear typewritten to me)

Ray Larabie's picture

I would print my briefs in this Century.

I made a font in the mid 1990s called 20th Century Font. A rather large font corporation let me know that it was a violation of their Twentieth Century font trademark so I discontinued it . . . even tho I was alluding to 20th Century Fox and the font bore no resemblance. It was rebuilt and released about a decade ago as Wevli.

riccard0's picture

So, that’s why House Ind. added “century modern” to Eames! ;-)
Is “Cent” enough? http://www.letterhead.ru/Fonts/21cent.html

By the way, do petitions include a colophon?

John Hudson's picture

Someone needs to create a typeface called "Century Supreme".

Té Rowan's picture

Why not take Alexey Kryukov's "Old Standard" and bang on it a bit to get that "Century Supreme"?

oldnick's picture

Perhaps the source of this thread, perhaps not. In any event, one might wonder whether or not Lynn Boyd Benton had connections in the Supreme Court around the turn of the twentieth century...

http://www.alwd.org/JALWD/CurrentIssues/2010/pdfs/kiernanjohnson.pdf

mr's picture

Aluminum: are you looking at the before PDF? The after PDF appears to be in Palatino.

Ehague's picture

For example, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is a very well-respected jurist and also a fan of good typography

Did Easterbrook himself write that style guide? He already outclasses so many judges just in terms of his prose—and now this too?

dezcom's picture

Having worked many years with GPO and assorted Government agency staffers, I can tell you that whatever rules are written, most are a result of some politically motivated compromise and have little bearing on what might be best. The Century that you seek is one of the ones that the particular bureaucrat in question at that moment will approve. That rule came about during the Nancy Hanks era as the government overseer of all things design at the National Endowment for the Arts during the Nixon-Ford era. She instituted what was known as the "Federal Graphics Improvement Program" in an attempt to have American Government documents look better than the "anything goes" garbage that had made US Gov. material the laughing stock of the World. Massimo Vignelli was hired by the Endowment to create standards for Congressional documents. He chose Century (mostly "expanded" as per hot metal specimens) to print the Congressional Record and many other regular daily projects. The GPO loving a chance to point out a rule from one bureaucrat to another, seized on the Manual done by Massimo and made it law of the land. Other Departments and agencies soon followed with their own "Graphic Standards Manuals" and by the 1980's order was made out of chaos. All of my work was with the Department of Agriculture at the time but I was acquainted with designers for all the agencies at the time. Years of arguing between entrenched bureaucrats who love a pissing contest. What came out of it was not necessarily great design, but some consistency at least so that the average American could at least tell what a real government document looked like. Congress, in an attempt to prove how smart it was during the Energy Crisis of the 1970s, imposed many so-called cost and energy saving stipulations on all Govt. printing. Some of them were just plain silly. My all-time favorite was when they changed the standard size of a page from 8.5" x 11" to 8 3/8" by 10 7/8". The sound bites rolling off the tongues of the members of the Congressional Joint Committee on Printing members in charge was, "This will save X-billion tons of paper and energy each year while having no negative effect on anything." They certainly did not check with the nations paper companies, printers, and suppliers, they just assumed that if you shaved an eighth of an inch of of every piece of paper, that all of that paper was truly "saved" not paid for and no energy spent for either. They had no idea that paper companies were not going o spend millions to change their production process or printers were not going to change press sizes and management practices just because some Senator said it was a good idea. So printers just charged extra for the labor of revising set-ups for government work from the norm and threw all that "saved" paper in the trash adding to waste in landfills. Congress was so proud of patting itself on the back for their cross-party supported wisdom that they refused to listen to ANYONE who said "but...". Everyone in the industry just kind of snickered and went along as usual but now had plenty of in-jokes to laugh at whilst they tilted their favorite brew. Congress was on a roll! They even outlawed the use of coated paper and color printing without special dispensation from the JCP. This was because of the use of natural gas dryers in some web-fed printing presses to speed up drying time. They certainly exaggerated the benefit of this far beyond the few cents it saved in reality because they could praise themselves for their brilliance in energy conservation.

I see I have greatly digressed from the topic and I apologize for any errant innuendo I may have unwittingly written that may wrongly tarnish the brilliant history of congressional intelligence.

Thomas Phinney's picture

For example, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is a very well-respected jurist and also a fan of good typography:

http://typo.la/7th

Mostly that is pretty good and sensible info, but it repeats this old chestnut:

“Point” is a printing term for the height of a character. There are 72 points
to the inch, so capital letters of 12-point type are a sixth of an inch tall.

All true except for the second half of the second sentence. Funny, I just blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. http://www.thomasphinney.com/2011/03/point-size/

Cheers,

T

dezcom's picture

I should have added that Century was chosen simply because GPO already had a large investment in mats and machines in that face so it was a case of what they had instead of what might be best. GPO had a book of their own types and that was what was used as an "example". Today, this is all meaningless with digital type and offset printing. The Congressional Register and Congressional Record were printed in-house by GPO daily set in hot metal and printed letterpress--and yes, it was the 1970s. Today, everything is contracted out and nobody prints letterpress except the lovers of chic and the antiquated handiwork of our forefathers. I am sure Massimo would have preferred Helvetica or Bodoni but he was smart enough to know a battle that could not be won.

dezcom's picture

There you have it. When you combine the Worlds largest government bureaucracy with a bunch of lawyers and the prestige of the Supreme Court, I can guarantee, that there will be RULES to follow. :-)

butterick's picture

Did Easterbrook himself write that style guide?

The guide is uncredited, but under the circumstances, that would be my inference.

Si_Daniels's picture

Not sure if this helps (I've not read this thread), but a few years back I helped out with a tech support case with the Supreme Court. The case involved some reflow issues with the Microsoft Office version of Century Schoolbook. The account manager sent me a Supreme Court mug as a thank you for helping out.

joshuajfriedman's picture

There's a bit more to the story.

Before 2007, the Supreme Court required that documents be set in "Roman 11-point or larger type with 2-point or more leading between lines. The typeface should be similar to that used in current volumes of the United States Reports." (PDF here.)

In 2007, the court proposed various amendments to the larger set of rules governing practice before the court, including one that would change the font requirement to “New Century Schoolbook 12-point type." Various lawyers conferred and agreed that because New Century Schoolbook did not come installed on either Windows or Macintosh computers, the requirement might unnecessarily add confusion and expense to the process of filing briefs.

Presumably for this reason, in the final amended rules, which went into effect on October 1, 2007, fonts from the larger category of the "Century family" were permitted.

Ehague's picture

because New Century Schoolbook did not come installed on either Windows or Macintosh computers, the requirement might unnecessarily add confusion and expense to the process of filing briefs

Where's the influential type design lobby when you need it?

Nick Shinn's picture

Doesn't the US already have an official type department, the Font Bureau?

Richard Fink's picture

The Font Bureau only gets called in when the typeface crosses state lines.

quadibloc's picture

Well, I do remember that one famous document I have, originally published by the GPO, and available from Dover in a facsimile edition, is in Century... one can even now download it off the web, I was surprised to learn... Abramowitz and Stegun.

hrant's picture

The US Supreme Court requires briefs to be set in "Century family (e.g., Century Expanded, New Cen­tury Schoolbook, or Century Schoolbook)".

Typical legal system idiocy.

only a numbnut lawyer would pick a Century that's outside the realm of the traditional Century look.

I could write a short book about how many ways that's wrong.

hhp

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