Voting Rights: Legislating a Lie

by Ben Carter in


Last month, Donald Trump claimed in a tweet that “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

Politifact immediately rated this claim a “Pants on Fire” level of lie. Election experts all agree: the amount of voter fraud in American elections is vanishingly low. 

Nevertheless, we must treat these unserious claims from the President-Elect seriously for two reasons. First, though millions more Americans would prefer Hillary Clinton to be President, Donald Trump will be President. So, every foolish, dangerous, and demonstrably false thing he says must be taken seriously. But, second, and more importantly, Donald Trump’s claim of widespread voter fraud is part of the GOP’s larger strategy of actually rigging elections through voter suppression. 

Here’s how it works: you convince voters that voter fraud is a problem (it isn’t) and use that nonexistent “fraud” to pass laws that make it difficult for college students, elderly people, and poor people to register to vote. Combine difficulty registering to vote with a reduction in polling places and restrictions on early voting (Kentucky doesn’t even have no-excuse early voting) and you have a Republican recipe for making sure “their” voters are the most likely to get to the polls. 

So, while voter fraud doesn’t exist, voter suppression certainly does and it’s coming to Kentucky and Washington, DC. Here’s what it will look like: 

  • Repealing the motor voter law (this allows people to register to vote at their motor vehicle departments)
  • Requiring ID in all federal elections
  • Requiring a birth certificate or passport to register to vote
  • Restricting the time and place for people to vote

Again, all of this will happen based on—forgive the easy pun—Trumped-up allegations of nonexistent voter fraud. 

Instead of making it more difficult and expensive to register to vote and more time-consuming and inconvenient to cast a ballot, we can instead insist that our policymakers pass laws making it easier for everyone to participate in our democratic process. Kentucky once led the country in election reform, adopting one of the first computerized voter databases in the nation. We can do it again. Here are three things that our representatives could do this year to expand rather than restrict voting rights in Kentucky: 

First, Kentucky should adopt universal vote-by-mail (UVBM). Three states—Oregon, Colorado, and Washington—already conduct all of their elections by mail-in ballot. For the state, there are a number of benefits. UVBM is safer and more secure than having polling places. It also creates a verifiable paper trail. It’s also less expensive while making it easier for state officials to maintain the voter roll. For voters, it’s more convenient. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that voter turnout increases when you allow people to vote from the comfort of their kitchen tables.

Me, far too excited to vote given that I was forced to show up at a certain place on a certain date as though the USPS doesn't exist and UVBM doesn't work already in three states. Also, my kid. 

Me, far too excited to vote given that I was forced to show up at a certain place on a certain date as though the USPS doesn't exist and UVBM doesn't work already in three states. Also, my kid. 

Second, if we cannot pass UVBM, our legislators can repeal the restrictions on absentee voting to allow everyone to vote within a couple weeks of the election if they want to. 

Finally, Governor Bevin should honor his commitment to the automatic restoration of voting rights for former felons. Kentucky is one of three states that does not automatically restore voting rights to citizens who have served their time. Currently, more than 250,000 Kentuckians cannot vote because of this prohibition. Governor Bevin has claimed to support restoring voting rights, but has actually processed exactly zero citizens’ applications to vote again. 

Unfortunately, voting rights restrictions are likely to be coming to Kentucky. If not from Washington, then from Frankfort. As a community, we should be deeply suspicious of a party’spolicies and commitment to participatory democracy when that party a) lies to b) justify unnecessary legislation that c) makes it more difficult for people to vote. These are the actions of a party that knows it cannot win when everyone votes. 

As citizens, we must reject the leaders who enact policies that erode the very foundations of our democracy. Restrictions on voting distort our representation and damage our republic. This damage, once done, will be hard to undo. We cannot allow it in Kentucky and, indeed, can do more to make it easier, more secure, and less expensive for everyone to participate in our democracy.


For Kentucky Democrats, the Only Way to Win is to Lose

by Ben Carter in


It’s a tough time to be a Kentucky Democrat. We’ve lost the state House of Representatives—badly and for the first time more than a century. Just look at this .gif of the Eastern Kentucky vote in 2008, 2012, and 2016. 

I’m from Greenup County and a Democrat, so this red wave hurts both my head and heart. Just watch this .gif for a moment and let that wave wash over your retinas. Time to think about some stuff. Photo courtesy of  @MetricMaps , who you should definitely follow on Twitter. 

I’m from Greenup County and a Democrat, so this red wave hurts both my head and heart. Just watch this .gif for a moment and let that wave wash over your retinas. Time to think about some stuff. Photo courtesy of @MetricMaps, who you should definitely follow on Twitter. 

Stark.

We have, as a national party, made ideological commitments to a multiracial, inclusive politics that has not translated well to a pretty rural, mostly white, mostly Christian Kentucky. And, by “not translated well” I mean, “Holy smokes, that was brutal.”

Meanwhile, our commitments to equality based on race, sexual orientation, gender, and national origin are non-negotiable. Let me put it this way: there will never be a moment that the KKK plans a celebration parade for a Democrat if I have anything to say about what being a Democrat means. 

With a national party building a young, multiracial, multiethnic, cosmopolitan coalition of voters, Kentucky Democrats find ourselves in what Ulysses McGill might call a “tight spot.” 

So, what are Kentucky Democrats to do? This is what we do. Here is my four-step plan to fight. 

STEP 1: LOSE

You guys, we are going to lose so hard. I mean, we already lost hard, but we are going to keep losing hard. We are going to lose more going forward than we have in the past. In Kentucky, the way to win is to challenge every state House seat, every state Senate seat, every Congressional seat, every statewide office every time. We run everywhere. Every time. Again and again. And we're going to lose terribly. It's going to be painful, occasionally embarrassing, and seemingly futile. 

And yet, these losing campaigns and candidates are our only hope. These fearless losers will be the ones showing up knowing they’re going to lose and fighting anyway. They will be the ones having tough conversations with neighbors and church members about their values, illustrating in word and action how their Christian faith informs their commitment to Democratic principles.

Step 2: Run Everywhere, Every time. 

In Kentucky, the way to win is to challenge every state House seat, every state Senate seat, every Congressional seat, every statewide office every time. We run everywhere. Every time. Again and again. This year, two Republican congressmen ran unopposed. In 100 state House races, 64 were contested and 11 Democrats ran unopposed while 25 Republicans ran unopposed. (You can see the full results here. Pay special attention to those House races where Republicans ran unopposed. Do you live there? This essay is especially for you.) 

We have to begin to compete everywhere. Every race that is unopposed is a race in which voters are hearing no counterargument, engaging in no conversation. No one is offering those voters a separate vision of how we can move forward as a Commonwealth and nation than the one offered by the unopposed Republican.

For the national party, waiting for the demographics to catch up with your ideological commitments may be a winning strategy. In Kentucky, we can take no comfort in demographics. Our mostly white, mostly Christian neighbors are mostly going to get older. Heck, unlike most states, we can’t even count on our millennials to vote Democrat. 

Source: https://mic.com/articles/157558/here-s-what-the-electoral-college-map-would-look-like-if-only-millennials-voted#.K6LJtiJzO

Source: https://mic.com/articles/157558/here-s-what-the-electoral-college-map-would-look-like-if-only-millennials-voted#.K6LJtiJzO

And, even if we could count on demographics, that’s still not the way to win. The way to win is to engage with our neighbors. To keep talking, advocating, listening, learning, shaking hands, building trust, and being helpful. We keep showing up. We fight everywhere for the hearts and confidence and votes of our neighbors. Not because we can win this next election or the one after that, but because we owe it to our neighbors to fight and our vision of the future compels it.

Though we may not intend it, when the Democratic Party fails to contest a race, we risk communicating to voters that we do not believe they or their votes are worth fighting for. That’s the wrong message to send to big chunks of our state for two reasons: 1) it’s not true, of course, and 2) it’s bad politics. 

As Democrats, we support raising the minimum wage, higher taxes on corporations, and paid sick-leave for all workers. We know that workers benefit in higher wages and safer workplaces when they are represented by unions and believe that any worker who benefits from union negotiations ought to also pay dues to the benefit negotiating those better wages and better working conditions. Let's take our case to our neighbors everywhere across Kentucky. 

As Democrats, we are proud of our President, Democrats in Congress and former Governor Steve Beshear for expanding access to affordable healthcare to tens of thousands of Kentuckians who desperately needed it. The Affordable Care Act has been a tremendous benefit to Kentucky and Kentuckians. But, our work is not over! Still more people need coverage and we are committed to reducing cost and expanding coverage.  

Step 3: Keep Losing

In case it’s not clear: I understand that the 25 people who could have run against these unchallenged Republicans would have lost. Badly.

So badly.

And, wow, the two Democrats that could have run against Brett Guthrie and Hal Rogers? Incinerated. Dust. 

We don't have any other choice but to fight and lose. We need candidates willing to stand up across Kentucky and say that the values they learned in Sunday School—inclusion, fair play, welcoming the stranger, caring for the needy—are the same values that inform their position on making taxes less regressive, ensuring that everyone that works makes a living wage, negotiating a path to citizenship for undocumented workers in Kentucky, expanding access to affordable healthcare to everyone. 

Look, I understand that for some voters are never going to be for you if you’re not in favor of banning access to safe abortions and banning gay marriage. But, I don’t think that’s most voters. I especially don’t think that’s most voters after we’ve shown them our hearts and guts in race after race. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Democratic Party’s (non-negotiable) positions on these two issues will doom Kentucky Democrats to a century in the minority in Frankfort. I don’t think so, but maybe. 

What I think is more likely is that authentic candidates unwilling to compromise on core Democratic principles will begin to rebuild Democratic power slowly, one campaign at a time. This progress will be painfully slow for many Kentuckians who will be hurt by Republicans’ efforts to weaken unions, restrict voting rights, reduce state revenues by cutting taxes on the wealthy, roll back protections for the LGBTQ community, privatize public education, and limit Kentuckians’ access to trial by jury. But, we will make progress. 

I want to be super-clear on this: I don't think voters who vote "against their self-interest" are to blame. Part of a commitment to democracy is a belief that all voters are smart enough to decide what's important to them and what's in their best interest. I don't think voters who voted for Trump are bigots or racists or Islamaphobes (unless, of course, they are). Voters don't owe the Democratic Party anything and in places in the state where we ceded a full 25% of the House races without opposition, I understand the sentiment that Democrats have abandoned those places and don't care. Democrats have lost the credibility to cry, "But they're voting against their self-interest!" when across large swaths of the Commonwealth we've played virtually no role in helping to frame our neighbors' "self-interest" within a larger web of policy considerations.  

I am convinced: there is nothing about the Democratic Party’s national commitments and platform that prevents Democrats from winning in mostly rural, mostly white, mostly Christian Kentucky. By showing up, listening, learning, advocating, and arguing—even where we’re going to lose, heck, especially where we’re going to lose—Democrats will win in Kentucky again.    

Step Four: Organize and Train

This is going to be a long, long slog and to do it the Kentucky Democratic Party must commit to building an infrastructure to train candidates, amateur campaign managers, and volunteer campaign workers. Democratic grassroots in Kentucky are energized today like they haven't been in years. We understand: there is no one coming. It is up to us. The KDP must harness that grassroots energy and give its activists the tools they need to organize, fund, and execute campaigns across the state. 

We have already seen the success that organizations like Emerge Kentucky and Wellstone Action have had in training future candidates to run for office.

One recent graduate of the Emerge Kentucky program, McKenzie Cantrell, narrowly defeated a party-switching incumbent (who was well-supported by independent PAC spending) to return a Kentucky House seat to the Democrats earlier this month. Without Emerge Kentucky, I’m not sure McKenzie becomes Rep. Cantrell. (By the way, ladies, the deadline to apply for Emerge Kentucky's next training has been extended to December 1.)

Training people to run for office and run campaigns and organize communities works. Leadership, public speaking, campaigning, tweeting are not God-given gifts like height or 20/20 vision. They’re skills that can be learned, honed. Because we are going to run candidates everywhere, every time, the Kentucky Democratic Party owes its candidates and organizers this training. Not once candidates win a primary. Now. Before they run. While they run against other Democrats. All the time. All over the state. This is the work of the Kentucky Democratic Party.

Slowly, we will begin winning. It may be a surprise in a rural district from an especially strong candidate. Or, we may pick up a suburban district in northern Kentucky after a few swipes at it. But, slowly, we will begin to win.

Ironically, it may be a statewide office that we win first with the help of a bunch of losers at the bottom of a ticket. While coattails at the top of a ticket matter, people forget that having strong candidates at the bottom of a ticket can drive voters who otherwise may not have voted at all or may have otherwise voted for the other party to the polls. I’m not fancy enough to know what the opposite of coattails are, but they exist and—with the help of Kentucky Democrats in larger cities—these losers with reverse coattails may elect a Democratic governor in 2019 or a Democratic Senator in 2020. 

It probably won’t happen that fast, though, folks. We need to be real about where we are: this is a decade-long project and just a ton of hard work and losing. For a long time, we’re going to have to run in a way that says, “This is not about winning. This is about fighting.” Of course, I happen to believe that once Democrats stop caring about whether they win or lose, they will run the kinds of campaigns that will eventually win. 

Winning by losing. In a state where many of us worship a God whose death vouchsafed eternal life, it’s a strategy so crazy it just might work. 

Action Item: 

Share this post with someone you know who would make a good candidate for public office in Kentucky, some loser who loves a good fight. Tell them why you think they would make a good candidate, and, tell them you'll help. Tell them losing is okay: it's all part of the plan.


How Democrats Win the Senate Next Year in Kentucky

by Ben Carter in


It started innocently enough. After reading that Rand Paul’s new book had only sold 500 copies and frustrated with the recent defeats of the Kentucky Democratic Party’s candidates, I tweeted a couple weeks ago: 

After sending the tweet, the idea sort of stuck around, though. I started thinking, “You know, it’s not the craziest idea ever. I mean, it’s not crazy like balancing the budget on the backs of poor people.”

A young person, running with a populist message, hellbent on inspiring and organizing Kentucky’s Democratic base to vote and encourage others to vote—that might just work. Matt Bevin may just ruin the Republican brand in time for the November election. Hillary at the top of the ticket and more people voting in 2016 helps the Democratic candidate, as well. And, the longer Rand Paul stays in this crazy Republican primary, the longer he is ignoring Kentucky and saying unhelpful, callous things in a futile effort to stay competitive. 

So, I thought about it. I talked with some people about it. The more I thought about it and the more I talked about it, the more two things became clear: 1) this race is winnable by the right candidate and 2) the timing just couldn’t be worse for me to run. 

I have a number of reasons for wanting to run. But, I have three excellent reasons not to. 

will&sarah
ben&josh&vickie

Ultimately, the people I talked with who knew best were able to get through my thick skull something I didn’t want to but needed to hear: running would mean being a candidate first and a father, husband, and lawyer second. That’s not a sacrifice I’m willing to make. 

But, I did get far enough in the process to write an announcement speech last Saturday morning. I am sharing it with you because I hope we can create the space in Kentucky for a candidate to say these kinds of things and run this kind of campaign. I think it’s the only kind of campaign that has a chance of winning because to win we must honor the Democratic Party’s roots in the hard, frustrating work of organizing and speak authentically on the core issues that motivate Democrats to organize and vote. 


Thank you for joining me this morning. I’m launching my campaign for United States Senate today because I believe Kentucky deserves a Senator whose primary mission is improving the financial security of Kentucky’s working families. As an attorney, I work every day with poor and struggling middle class families. Homeowners facing foreclosure, tenants facing eviction, debtors facing abusive debt collectors, moms and dads facing bankruptcy because of medical bills, young people wondering how they’re going to get to a job interview because the lemon a car dealer just sold them won’t start. College graduates wondering what to do about student loan debt. 

Everywhere, everyday, too many Kentuckians are wondering how they're going to make it to the next payday, whether today is the day that it all falls apart. 

This wasn’t my reality growing up. I hit the lottery: two loving parents in a financially secure home. My mom stayed at home with my sister and me and helped us every step of our journey. My dad is still the hardest-working person I know despite the fact that he recently retired from a job helping to run a coal business. Growing up, I had every single opportunity that love or money could buy. In many ways, the fact that we talk about “hitting the lottery” when talking about what families we’re born into is why I’m running: opportunity in America shouldn’t be available only to the lucky kids. It’s our responsibility as Americans to create systems and programs that ensure that every kid has the same chance to succeed. That’s what living in a meritocracy is. 

For many of us, ensuring that every child grows up safe and with an opportunity to succeed is motivated by our faith. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists all agree: caring for the poor, insisting on compassionate treatment of all people, protecting the elderly, the vulnerable, standing in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed, welcoming the outsider—these are compelled by our faith. You don’t have to have faith for these to be your values, but if you do have faith, I don’t understand how they’re not your values. 

If I’m in town, I’m in the pews of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church. My faith is part of who I am and without a doubt informs the work I do and the work I will do as a Senator. I don’t begrudge anyone whose politics is influenced by their faith. Religions help us understand and negotiate how we live in community with one another, about how we live out our shared commitments to each other. And, as a government by the people, our government is how we live out those commitments to one another. 

So, it is natural that our religious beliefs and worldviews should inform our politics. But, it’s not enough to simply have faith. In America in 2015, you’ve got to have facts, too. You can’t say, “I don’t believe in climate change because I’m not a scientist and God said after the flood that he’d never destroy the world again.” The facts suggest that human pollution is altering the climate of our planet. And, I believe being good stewards of our land, air, and water is a Biblical imperative.  

If you want to know where I stand on issues, ask yourself what would help working families, poor kids, vulnerable senior citizens, the downtrodden, and the forgotten. It is our responsibility to provide basic health care for all people. To insure that people have the opportunity to work safely and for a wages that allow them to provide the basic needs to their families. To build affordable housing for every person and every family. To build an affordable educational system accessible to every young person. To protect refugees and welcome immigrants. To ensure that people can age with dignity. 

On these issues, Democrats have a lot to be proud of. We have created 8.3 million new jobs during the Obama administration. Under Bush, the economy lost 463,000 jobs in eight years. Unemployment has declined from reduced unemployment from 10% to 5%. Together, Democrats in Kentucky like Steve Beshear and in Washington have expanded affordable health care access to more than 500,000 Kentuckians. All while being fought every step of the way by a know-nothing, do-nothing Republican Congress. 

Did I vote for Obama? Hell yes, I did. Twice. And, I’d do it a third time if I could. 

Nevertheless, the election results earlier this month demonstrate that Democrats have a real problem in Kentucky. The motivating theory of this campaign is that Democrats have a lot of work to do in living rooms, fellowship halls, coffee shops, bars, and on doorsteps across the Commonwealth to listen, persuade, and motivate. Now is not the time to rest. Now is the time to organize. Our odds are long and our time is short, but the stakes for Kentucky’s working families are too high to not do the work. Our campaign will build an organization—rooted in every single county in Kentucky—with one goal: training and empowering our friends, neighbors, and family to get their friends, neighbors, and families to the polls on November 8th, 2016. If we can’t energize the people who didn’t vote in this last election to vote for us in 2016, we won’t win. We need them to vote. To vote for a future that is possible, but only if we organize for it, work for it, and insist upon it.

When Democrats get to work, people get to work. When Democrats tell their story, the stories of working families have better endings. Please go to my website: sign up, donate, and share this with your friends. The work begins today. Right now. 


Obviously, my work on a Senate campaign does not begin today. I'm a little sad that I don't get to give this speech and run this campaign—we would have had a lot of fun in this fight. It's easy to not be too sad, though, knowing I made the right decision for my family and my law practice. 

But, I hope to get to work on a campaign that shares the values articulated in this speech and that will speak unapologetically to Kentucky's voters about the Democratic Party's unparalleled record of creating economic security for Kentucky's families and representing the best of human nature: compassion, courage, generosity, and empathy. 


The Races I'm Watching

by Ben Carter


Alright, folks, here are the races I’ll be watching tonight and why. If you want to hang, I’ll be at The Silver Dollar with Judge Shake and crew.

19th District Senate

Morgan McGarvey’s a buddy of mine from law school and will make a damn good Senator. We’ll never end the war on young people without more young people making laws.

Commonwealth’s Attorney

My wife is an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney. So, yeah, I’m kind of interested in who will be her next boss.

Court of Appeals

I’m for Judge Shake[1]. Here’s why I’m supporting him. This race, unlike the others mentioned here, isn’t over with the primary. Judge Shake will need your help all the way through the November 6 general election. So, go give him some money or like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

Lexington’s Third District Council Seat

I like Diane Lawless. I think she does a good job and trust her judgment. Stephanie Spires has by all accounts run a very good race. She is married to John Spires, a law school buddy of mine. So, I’ll be interested to see the outcome of that race. Diane and Stephanie will face each other (I expect) in the general election in November.

98th District House of Representatives

This is my home district back in Greenup County. Rep. Tanya Pullin[2] is facing a primary from Tyler Murphy. I think Tanya’s demonstrated ability to pass legislation through a Republican-controlled State Senate and her reputation for, you know, reading bills, working hard, and actually caring is enough to warrant her reelection. Plus, I just can’t forgive Tyler Murphy for being this guy at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

So, those are the races I’ll be watching tonight. Good job for voting everybody.


  1. Full disclosure: I helped Judge Shake set up his website.  ↩

  2. Full disclosure: I helped Representative Pullin set up her website.  ↩


Typography for Lawyers: One Space, Double Spacing, and Other Good Ideas

by Ben Carter


This is an essay about typography.

What is typography? Basically, it’s how letters and words appear on the page, how individual words and chunks of text fit together. As lawyers, our livelihoods depend often on chunks of text. The thesis of this article is that small typographical improvements in your resumes, letters, briefs, and presentations can make a dramatic difference in your ability to effectively communicate and persuade.

Better typography improves your chances in mediations, in court, and in trial.

I need to make two points before I even get started. First, and perhaps already obviously, I am a nerd. How much of a nerd? I still own a 20-sided die. The best way to get me to corner you at a party is to mention in an offhanded way that you need to get a scanner (at which point, I will rhapsodize about the Fujitsu Scansnap 1500 for 20 minutes as the ice melts in your cocktail). As you will see, I’m the kind of nerd who can’t resist making a reference to Weird Al Yankovich’s cult classic UHF even in an article in which I hope to impress my peers.

I’m the kind of nerd that says, “Hell, yes!” when I discover that some typeface-designer-turned-lawyer has written a book about typography and the practice of law.[1] This is my second point: almost everything I have learned about typography I learned from Matthew Butterick and his excellent website, http://typographyforlawyers.com and book, Typography for Lawyers. Butterick is a Harvard-trained typeface designer and a graduate of the University of California Berkeley’s Boalt Hall. So, he’s kind of in his wheelhouse on the subject of typography for lawyers.

I recognize that not everyone has attained the same nerd heights as me and may not want to read an entire book about typography. This is an attempt at a summary. Still, I highly recommend getting the book. I refer to it each time I write a brief. It contains great examples of before and after improvements to business cards, resumes, correspondence, and legal briefs. Further, it contains detail that can only be captured in a book; Butterick explains the proper use of em dashes and en dashes and hyphens, the nuances of non-breaking spaces and non-breaking hyphens, the dark art of letter spacing. So, get the book.

Plaintiffs attorneys would do well to adopt better typographical practices now rather than later. Law schools across the country are using Butterick’s book as part of their legal writing curriculum. The federal clerks who are reading your briefs will know the best typographical practices and will judge you and your failure to adopt them. Further, as I mentioned above, better typography produces briefs, letters, and exhibits that are easier to read and therefore more likely to be read and understood.

Plaintiffs attorneys have a brief window in which adopting better typography will provide us with a subtle advantage. The defense bar will eventually adopt better typographical practices and then our failure to use them ourselves will disadvantage us and our clients.

So, let’s get started on improving our work product with better typography. I will begin with some practices that will improve all of your documents, including your briefs, and then discuss the impact of court rules regarding margins and line spacing in briefs.

Use One Space after Punctuation

Modern typographical best practices flow from an appreciation of a fact that has eluded many attorneys: we have computers now, not typewriters[2]. We learned to type (or our typing teachers learned to type) on typewriters that used a monospace font. That is, every letter, whether it’s a fat “m” or a skinny “i”, was stamped on a piece of metal that was the same width as all the other characters. Using two spaces after punctuation in a monospace font is acceptable (but even there, unnecessary). On computers, however, we are blessed with proportional fonts–fonts with varying letter widths. Using two spaces after a proportional font is a vestige of our days from the typewriter. It is, as Butterick says, “an obsolete habit”. As he says in his book and website:

Some top­ics in this book will involve dis­cre­tionary choices. Not this one. Always put exactly one space between sen­tences. Or more gen­er­ally: put exactly one space after any punc­tu­a­tion.

One space. Period.

Okay, with that sacred cow slaughtered, let’s move on…

Use Bold or Italic Type for Emphasis

Do not use underlining. Again, underlining is a vestige from our typewriter days when there simply was no other option but to use underlining to add emphasis. Bold type and italic type just weren’t available on typewriters. Bold and italic type are the typographical equivalent of the electronic unlocking mechanism on your car. When was the last time you actually unlocked your car with your key?

Use better tools: bold and italic typefaces are more elegant and less disruptive to the eye than underlined text.

Justify Your Text on the Left

There’s really not much to this rule except to say that studies have shown that left-justified text is easier to read than text that is justified on both sides. In a left-justified document, the reader’s eyes use the nonuniform breaks along the right side of the page as a subtle guide to find the beginning of the next line of text.

Unlike the two previous rules, you do not have to stop justifying your text on both sides if you don’t want to. Know that you are making your reader’s job more difficult, but justifying on both margins is still acceptable practice. If you justify on both sides, however, you are required to turn on hyphenation in your word processor. Hyphenation will help you avoid the unsightly gaps in text that can occur in documents justified on both sides. These gaps, like the double spaces after periods, are little tiny speed bumps for the reader’s eyes as they travel across the page.

Look, I should probably be explicit about this now that I’ve used the phrase “little tiny speed bumps for your reader’s eyes”: I write my briefs with the understanding that judges and their law clerks are drinking from the fire hose. Like little Joe Miller in UHF, judges and law clerks found the marble in the oatmeal and now their reward is to read tens of thousands of pages of lawyers’ briefs each year. My baseline assumption about my audience is that they are drowning and are looking for basically any reason to stop reading my brief. Given this assumption, a lot of “little tiny speed bumps” in my brief are a really big problem for me.

Use a Nice Font

Fonts are what most people think of when they hear the word “ typography”. I hope my ranting so far has given you a sense that fonts (technically, typefaces) are just a small element of good typography.

Consider investing in a nice font. Butterick has designed a typeface, Equity, to meet the special needs of attorneys. It is polished, tight, and its italic is beautiful. Seriously, I find myself trying to find reasons to italicize words when writing with Equity. It’s available for purchase on his website. He also has recommendations for replacements for your Times New Roman and other common system fonts that are preinstalled on your computer and make your work look like everyone else’s work.

Avoid All Caps

Many attorneys rely on ALL CAPS as a way to emphasize their most important points and in the headings of their briefs. This is not a useful practice. ALL CAPS IS ACTUALLY HARDER TO READ than regular text. Butterick allows for a single line of all caps text, but no more. Personally, I try to avoid it whenever possible.

A bolded, underlined, all caps heading is just an invitation to your reader to skip past it.

On a related note, if you have a case which involves the question of whether a provision in a contract is clear and conspicuous, Butterick is available to serve as an expert witness. I think his services would be especially useful in consumer cases which involve contracts that contain paragraph upon paragraph upon paragraph of all caps text. The science is in: this text is difficult to read.


Every court promulgates rules regarding typography. These rules are designed to promote fairness, uniformity, and legibility by forbidding attorneys from engaging in the worst typographical practices in an effort to squeeze more words onto a page. These rules have their most dramatic impact on line length (margin rules) and line spacing (the requirement that the lines be double-spaced).

Shorten Your Lines Outside of Briefs

“Shorter lines are easier to read than longer lines,” says Butterick. Ideally, your line will be between 45 and 90 characters, including spaces. Most courts in Kentucky require one-inch margins on both the left and right. (The appellate courts require 1 1/2" margins on the left.) At these margins, your 12-pt Times New Roman line is going to have more characters than the recommended maximum of ninety. Outside of lobbying for a rule change, there’s nothing you can do.

Move on to something you can fix: your line lengths in your letters, interoffice memorandum, and presentations. For me, shortening my line lengths was a revelation; this small change led to an immediate improvement in the look and readability of my letters.

Use True Double Spacing for Better Briefs

The ideal line spacing is 120–145% of your font size. That is, if you are using a 12-point font, you should set your line spacing between 14.4 and 17.4. Personally, for my out-of-court documents, I use 15-point spacing. It provides a little more space between the lines than the “single spacing” setting (which makes words look cramped and is difficult to read).

Most courts require us to double space our briefs.[3] CR 76.12(4)(a)(ii) requires us to use “black type no smaller than 12 point” and typing that is “double spaced and clearly readable.” The court’s requirement to double space your briefs does not mean, however, that you just go into Microsoft Word and pound the “double space” button. True double spacing for a 12-point font means setting your line spacing at “Exactly” 24 points. Using Microsoft Word’s default “double space” will give you line spacing greater than 24 points–about 15% greater, in fact. This translates to having 2–3 fewer lines on a 8 1/2“ x 11” page.

In other words, if you are using Microsoft Word’s default “double space” setting for your pleadings, you are hurting yourself in two ways: 1) you are making your document less legible by putting more space than ideal between your lines and 2) you are making your document longer than it needs to be. Because our courts set maximum page limits (rather than word limits), this means you are giving yourself (and your client) fewer words to explain your position than you would otherwise have available to you.

How many times have you been on page twenty-six and need to slim a brief down to twenty-five pages? True double spacing will give you more words and those words will look better on the page.

There: I just gave you a way to be more verbose than you already are. For that and for all the other typographical wisdom (cribbed entirely from Matthew Butterick), you’re welcome.

Sometimes it pays to know nerds.


  1. The only other lawyer I knew personally that had read Typography for Lawyers and cared about this stuff at all was Finis Price. I miss that guy.  ↩

  2. For anyone reading this still using a typewriter: you need help this article cannot provide. Please stop reading.  ↩

  3. I’ve looked through Jefferson County’s local rules and can’t find a double-spacing requirement anywhere. Nonetheless, I think the court would look askance at anything not double-spaced.  ↩


Three Goggles: A Cool Nerdy Shirt

by Ben Carter


So, I had an idea for a t-shirt.

What can I say? It's March. I live in Kentucky. I'm a nerd.

And, it's 2012, so technology allows me to create and order a t-shirt in almost no time. Awesome. 

If you like it, too, I've created a shop at http://skreened.com, a Cafepress alternative that offers ethical and enviornmentally-friendly screenprinting options. You can customize your tee for color, size, and style (fitted, traditional, etc.). 

Go Cats. 


The Sausage of Justice

by Ben Carter


The Network Center for Community Change pays me (yes, it is a great job) to train attorneys attorneys to defend homeowners facing foreclosure and work with courts to implement processes that ensure everyone is getting a fair shake during a foreclosure. This is a presentation from last fall at the Kentucky Bar Association's Kentucky Law Update in Covington, Kentucky in which I explain to attorneys how they can profitably incorporate foreclosure defense into their practice, how loan modifications work and don't work, and why the court system needs to change how it handles foreclosure proceedings. Somehow, I also talk about the Sausage of Justice.

Read more about the Network Center for Community Change: makechangetogether.org

Read more about my law practice: bencarterlaw.com


Gatewood Spoke To Me

by Ben Carter


In law school, I had a radio show at WRFL, UK’s student-run radio station. Gatewood was a guest[1] on the show twice: in January of 2005 and in March of 2006. The audio from the 2006 interview is at the bottom of this post and the 2005 episode (which has really bad sound quality), is in a separate post.

In all of the remembrances and statements regarding Gatewood, one word keeps surfacing: “colorful”. That’s how the Kentucky Democratic Party described Gatewood in a tweet last week. 

This pisses me off. 

“Colorful” is a pretty obvious way of dismissing Gatewood as a loon when, in fact, he thought harder about government and its role–both positive and negative–in people’s lives than 100% of the people who now hold elected office in Kentucky. But, his actions were more important than his thinking. Gatewood acted upon his convictions and that’s what people loved about him. That, and the fact that he was easily and always the funniest person in the room.

Americans love authentic and Gatewood was 100% authentic. You know who doesn’t like authentic? Power. Gatewood’s authenticity scared powerful people. This is why they try to dismiss him and his legacy with chickenshit words like “colorful”.

At a time in Kentucky politics when both parties are owned by Big Money, Gatewood stood alone against the Petrochemical Pharmaceutical Military Industrial Transnational Corporate Fascist Elite SOBs.[2]

There is no question that Gatewood was charming enough and friendly enough and smart enough and well-credentialed enough to hold any public office he wanted in Kentucky–if he would have just gotten in line with the powerful. 

But, if he had done that, he wouldn’t have been Gatewood. 

At the end and throughout, Gatewood wasn’t colorful–he was himself. Despite the lure of power, despite the press of marketers and salesmen, despite the fact that people would try to remember him and dismiss him as “colorful”–he was himself.

People and parties who will describe an authentic, earnest, integral person as “colorful” clearly have no idea how hard it is to become and be and remain yourself. For those of us who do, the memory of Gatewood Galbraith will remind us that it is, indeed, still possible to live a real life in America in the 21st century. You can disagree with everything Gatewood said and stood for and still see him as “the last free man in America,” a truly courageous man, someone worth respecting and emulating. 

Gatewood deserves to rest in peace. The rest of us, however, have work to do. 


  1. That Gatewood would appear on a 7 a.m. college radio show tells you just about all you need to know about his passion and generosity.  ↩

  2. A term that only Gatewood could have coined and that only Gatewood could deploy credibly. He uses it a few minutes into the 2006 Interview. By the way, the other interviewer is my buddy, Alex DeGrand. He’s the one asking the good questions.  ↩