Justices and Legal Clarity: Analyzing the Complexity of Supreme Court Opinions
Ryan J. Owens
University of Wisconsin - Madison - Department of Political Science
University of Kentucky - Department of Political Science
June 16, 2010
Legal clarity is important to understand and measure because of its connection to the rule of law. We provide the first systematic examination of the clarity of Supreme Court opinions and discover five important results. First, certain justices systematically craft clearer opinions than others. Justices Scalia and Breyer write the clearest opinions while Justice Ginsburg consistently writes the most complex opinions. Second, ideology does not predict clarity. Third, all justices write clearer dissents than majority opinions, while minimum winning coalitions produce the clearest majority opinions. Fourth, justices across the board write clearer opinions in criminal procedure cases than in any other issue area. Finally, opinions that formally alter Court precedent render less clear law, potentially leading to a cycle of legal ambiguity.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 44
Keywords: Supreme Court, opinion clarity, opinion complexity, legal rules, legal standards, cognitive complexity, justices, opinion writing, opinion draft, rule of law
Date posted: October 24, 2010
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