Judicial Ghostwriting: Authorship on the U.S. Supreme Court
33 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2010
Date Written: 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.
Keywords: Supreme Court, Law Clerks, Bayesian Statistics, Authorship
JEL Classification: C11, C13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation