Court of Petty Appeals: CATS v. Law Weekly

Coalition Against Tacky Spelling (CATS) v. Law Weekly  

892 U.Va. 150 (2018) 


VanderMeulen, C. J., delivered the opinion of the en banc Court, in which Mann, Zablocki, Malkowski, Schmalzl, Elicegui, and Ranzini, JJ., joined. Hopkin, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Lamberth, J., joined and Jani, J., joined in part. 

Chief Justice VanderMeulen delivered the opinion of the Court. 

You wrote “UVA” wrong, they tell us. Since the Justices of this Petty Court took our oaths of office atop old, derelict boxes of Domino’s Pizza in the Law Weekly offices, the good members of this Law School community have badgered and annoyed us with claims that we have incorrectly rendered the initials of this fine institution, which we write as “UVa.” What’s more, the Members of this Court moonlight as copy editors assigned the mind-numbing task of editing everyone’s submissions from “UVA” to “UVa.” The madness ends today. 

This case comes to us on appeal from the Court of Petty Griping, where Judge Grace Tang, a spirited 1L just getting her petty training wheels, ordered judgment for appellee Coalition Against Tacky Spelling (CATS) after a three-day bench trial. Judge Tang found that CATS had standing despite the fact that the dispute is not really about spelling and issued an injunction ordering the Law Weekly (i.e., me) to change henceforth its rendering of this University’s name from “UVa” to “UVA.” 

CATS is a coalition of groups that oppose silly spellings and abominable acronyms. The cases it has fought include CATS v. SAB, 415 U.Va. 212 (1985) (“‘Student Association of Bars’ makes no sense, idiots. Make it SBA.”); CATS v. KDon, 715 U.Va. 300 (2010) (“‘Fried,’ ‘Meagher,’ ‘Debevoise,’ and—we can’t believe we have to even try to spell this—‘Cadwalader’ are all hereby officially ordered to figure out their shit.”) Don’t even get us started on CATS v. Exclusive Elitist Bros Who Occasionally Play Softball, 630 U.Va. 719 (1998). It brought this case on the theory that the Law Weekly’s traditional rendering of this University’s abbreviated name is “antiquated,” “vestigial,” and “really confusing.” It contends in its brief before this Court that “no one else spells UVA like this” and “the Law Weekly should really catch up with the times and spell out the University’s initials like everyone else in the world.” Dean Kendrick is the head of CATS, and we really like her, so we’re going to try our best to handle this one professionally. 

First, a brief note on standing. It is of course a cardinal rule of petty law that complainants must be able to demonstrate “actual outrage” caused by the defendant’s action and redressable by this Court. Of course, Petty Rule of Civil Procedure 1 pretty much sums up our feelings about standing. “We do what we want.” Implicit in this statement is the power to do whatever we want. See GOOGLLE v. Dugas, 9 U.Va. 1 (2017) (opinion of Haden, C. J.). Therefore, we affirm Judge Tang’s ruling below and hold that CATS’ outrage at “UVa” suffices to grant them grounds to sue this paper. 

It would be informative here to conduct a broad survey of the history of abbreviations of the University of Virginia, but we’re running up against a deadline here and tbh it’s probs not that interesting. We do know this: For many years, the Virginia Law Weekly and other prominent sources (including local and national newspapers) referred to our University for short as “U.Va.” When Professor John C. Jeffries, Jr. ’73 (may he live forever) announced his plans for the Law School upon his selection as Dean, the Law Weekly ran the story under the headline “Jeffries Reveals Vision for U.Va. Law.”1 As far as we can tell, this was the tradition right up until about 2014 or so—except, weirdly, the 2009 edition I recently found with a picture of a young, mustachioed Joe Fore,2 which used “UVA.” At that point, we switched over to “UVa” which looks odd and unbalanced and which no one uses. 

As the times change, so too must spellings. We hearken to the opinion of our Brother Warren in Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958), where he noted with his customary magnanimity that spellings must be subject to “the evolving standards of orthographical decency that mark the progress of a maturing newspaper.” We take seriously the Supreme Court’s mandate3 and note that being asked to go to the theater is annoying enough without your pretentious friend spelling it “theatre.” Where would we be if we still had to put the annoying “u” in “armor” and “favor”? Who would console us if we still had to render “old” as “olde”? And, most importantly, I defy my dissenting colleagues to defend the use of that stupid symbol in the Constitution that looks like an “f” but is actually an “s.” Changing how we spell words and abbreviate is as natural as the progression of society itself. Try looking at the abbreviations in the Blu*book4 and telling the Court they’re intuitive. “Ry.” for “railway”? Rly? Come on! 

Similarly, the standards of spelling for the University of Virginia have changed. It would require only a cursory look at University marketing materials and emails to know that the University calls itself “UVA.” Our shirts say it, our emails say it. It’s time for our newspaper to say it. A decision this grave and widely felt should not, of course, be taken lightly. We spent a whole hour-and-a-half on this opinion and looked at, like, six past editions. We daresay an examination this thorough is more than sufficient to grant us an understanding of the emanations and penumbra of the Founding Spirit of the Law Weekly. In those emanations can clearly be seen the justification for keeping up with the times. As Justice Douglas might say, “Out with the old, in with whatever we think makes sense at this precise moment in time!” 

My colleague Justice Hopkin notes that the Cavalier Daily, our sister paper on Main Grounds, uses “UVa.” That’s all fine and dandy and may be true. The Court wouldn’t know; none of us has ever picked up a copy of the Cavalier Daily. But we don’t really like the undergrads. See, e.g.McGuire v. Annoying Vaping Sorority Women Back By The JAG School Windows, 887 U.Va. 13 (2018) (“GET. THEM. OUT OF HERE.”) In fact, the undergrad newspaper’s continuing use of “UVa” persuades us that the change to “UVA” is even more overdue. 

We hold that the standards of orthographical decency have evolved: This newspaper shall henceforth render the University of Virginia’s nickname as “UVA.” 

It is so ordered

Justice Hopkin, with whom Justice Lamberth joins and Justice Jani joins in part, dissenting. 

When the Court received this complaint, there was some initial confusion. After all, people that I work with, love, cherish, my family away from home, suddenly wanted to capitalize the “a”? I didn’t know so much of the Court could live with being so blatantly wrong.   

Since I consider this Court to be the only people in a position of power, I dissent with full consideration of the importance of the outcome. The question is should the Virginia Law Weekly pander to unlearned masses who do not understand that “UVa” is the correct abbreviation for publications to use when referencing the University of Virginia? The answer is: “Never give up. Never surrender.”   

Before the Court answers the question on the merits, the Court recognizes the typical expectation is to review all that business about mootness and injury and “stuff.” But as Rule 1 of the Petty Rules of Civil Procedure clearly states, “We do what we want,” the Court will be skipping this part of the opinion no one wanted to read anyway. The Court assumes the Blu*book follows the full format with the periods. The Court is unable to check to confirm, because we all shredded our texts upon receiving that fabled “S-” in Professor Fore’s class after not laughing at his PowerPoint jokes. The Court did task its clerks with researching the issue, but as it turns out we do not have clerks.  

In response to Judge Tang, we are not the only ones who spell it “UVa.” The Roanoke Times and Daily Progress refer to the University as “UVa.” Although The Washington Post and Richmond Times both use the more complete abbreviation (“U.Va.”), the sentiment is the same.  UVA looks like an acronym in which the “a” should stand for something when it stands for nothing.  

Yes, it is true that the University of Georgia, University of Maryland, and University of Vermont also use the full postal state designation in their abbreviation, resulting in non-acronym results. The Court is not against the use of the full postal code. The Court is only against mixing an abbreviation into an acronym and capitalizing all the letters—that most egregious abomination of hybrid language. For instance, the Court is fine with UNC as an abbreviation for the University of North Carolina. But where is the “A” here? VirginiA?   

“But we’re not those other universities!” says Tang. I agree with her sentiment and, therefore, did some research on what is happening on Main Grounds. The Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia’s undergraduate daily newspaper, does not capitalized the “a,” either! The Court knows how important Thomas Jefferson’s Original University (“TJOU,” if you will) was to him. Therefore, the Court can only assume Thomas Jefferson wanted the “a” to be lowercase.  

Ruling as I would rule does not mean every person wearing a sweatshirt in the hallway emblazoned with “UVA” would be ostracized. It simply means that serious publications with hard-hitting journalism containing the voice of the people would continue to use the abbreviation that former Chief Justice of this Court Alex Haden ’17 so artfully left us. That’s right, this Justice texted Haden, and he’s very disappointed (that this dispute was the “hot gossip” he was promised). 

I am technically correct: the best kind of correct, and the only kind of correct for a publication of our repute. I recommend Tang and her fellow “CATS” go bother Law Review.  

I respectfully dissent. 

Justice Jani, dissenting. 

I join my colleague Justice Hopkin’s dissent except as it pertains to my beloved University of Georgia (Go Dawgs). I write separately only to note the Court’s impotence in this tumultuous age. The Court should know, in the din of this School, the Law Weekly is a whimper in an infirmary. Like all of us and everyone who ever lived, this misguided decision will soon be forgotten, merged into the endless mists of forgotten history. Good riddance. 

1 Jonathan Riehl ’02, “Jeffries Reveals Vision for U.Va. Law.” Virginia Law Weekly, April 20, 2001. 

2 See a future edition because you better believe we’re runnin’ that baby front and center.

3 When we feel like it. See Petty R. Civ. P. 1, supra.

4 Like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named from that popular series of children’s books, the name of the Most Hated Book should never be spelled out in its entirety.