Words are Enough: The Troublesome Use of Photographs, Maps, and Other Images in Supreme Court Opinions
Posted: 14 Nov 1997
Date Written: June 1997
In this Commentary, Mr. Dellinger defines and analyses a heretofore unrecognized class of United States Supreme Court decisions: those in which a photograph, map, replica, or reproduction is attached to a Justice's opinion. Such attachments, all relying on visual or sight-based attributes that uniquely differentiate them from words, have appeared in a number of seminal decisions. Mr. Dellinger argues that the use of such attachments poses special dangers: because their neutrality and accuracy are so readily assumed, such attachments often elude the skepticism with which the written positions of Court opinions are generally reviewed. yet their inherent distortions and vulnerability to manipulation make the Justices' reliance on them problematic. Mr. Dellinger then argues that the Court should forgo any future reliance on attachments. In the alternative, the Justices, the companies that reproduce Court opinions, and readers must improve significantly the ways in which they respectively use, publish, and review these attachments.
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