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Judicial Ghostwriting: Authorship on the U.S. Supreme Court

Jeffrey S. Rosenthal

University of Toronto

Albert Yoon

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

August 30, 2010

Supreme Court justices, unlike the President or members of Congress, perform their work with relatively little staffing. Each justice processes the docket, hears cases, and writes opinions with the assistance of only their law clerks. The relationship between justices and their clerks is of intense interest to legal scholars and the public, but remains largely unknown. This article analyzes the text of the justices’ opinions to better understand judicial authorship. Based on the use of common function words, we find that justices vary in writing style, from which it is possible to accurately distinguish one another. Their writing style also informs how clerks influence the opinion-writing process. Current justices, with few exceptions, exhibit significantly higher variability in their writing than their predecessors, both within and across years. Our results strongly suggest that justices are increasingly relying on their clerks to write opinions.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 33

Keywords: Supreme Court, Law Clerks, Bayesian Statistics, Authorship

JEL Classification: C11, C13

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Date posted: August 31, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Rosenthal, Jeffrey S. and Yoon, Albert, Judicial Ghostwriting: Authorship on the U.S. Supreme Court (August 30, 2010). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1668735 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1668735

Contact Information

Jeffrey S. Rosenthal
University of Toronto ( email )
Department of Statistical Sciences
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8
Albert Yoon (Contact Author)
University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )
78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

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