With Amici Like These: Cicero, Quintilian and the Importance of Stylistic Demeanor
43 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2008
This article examines the opening sections of competing amicus briefs submitted in the recently decided First Amendment case of McCreary County v. ACLU, which concerned the constitutionality of Ten Commandments displays in two Kentucky courthouses. In a case like McCreary, which involved a volatile mix of religion, history and politics, rhetorical style is especially important because the Court already knows what kind of arguments the parties will make. Given the predictability of the types of argument, the manner of argument becomes even more important. Because the McCreary case addressed controversial, high profile issues, numerous briefs (29) were submitted in the case, including a brief on the merits from each of the parties and twenty-seven amicus briefs. Predictably, the briefs varied widely in quality and rhetorical style. In one way or another, most of them underestimated the tone-setting potential of the questions presented, tables of contents, and argument summaries. Instead of crafting the opening sections to maximize their rhetorical impact, the brief writers rely too much on vague abstractions, they provoke emotions they cannot control, and they obscure their arguments with hyperbole. Above all, they miscalculate the needs and temperament of their audience - the Court.
Keywords: rhetorical, rhetorical style, amicus briefs, First Amendment
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