Crafting the Law: How Opinion Content Influences Legal Development

33 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2015 Last revised: 13 Oct 2015

See all articles by Michael Nelson

Michael Nelson

Pennsylvania State University - Department of Political Science

Rachael Hinkle

University at Buffalo

Date Written: October 12, 2015

Abstract

Why are some judicial opinions widely cited while others languish in disuse? We theorize that both efficiency and persuasiveness structure the effect an opinion has on legal development. Precedents that are both unanimous and well-grounded in the law have greater persuasive value while citation to precedents that are easier to read allows a judge to craft an opinion more efficiently. We estimate the effect of an opinion's readability, the number of footnotes it contains, its use of precedent, and whether it contains a dissenting opinion on the number of times each year the opinion is cited and its vitality in the United States Supreme Court, the precedent's own court, the precedent's sister courts, the precedent's directly subordinate courts, and all remaining state and federal courts. We thus track vertical influence both up and down the judicial hierarchy and evaluate horizontal influence both within the precedent's jurisdiction and across jurisdictional lines.

Keywords: legal development, precedent, text analysis, stare decisis

Suggested Citation

Nelson, Michael and Hinkle, Rachael, Crafting the Law: How Opinion Content Influences Legal Development (October 12, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2620977 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2620977

Michael Nelson

Pennsylvania State University - Department of Political Science ( email )

University Park, State College, PA 16801
United States

Rachael Hinkle (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo ( email )

Department of Political Science
520 Park Hall (North Campus)
Buffalo, NY 14260
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
64
Abstract Views
511
rank
341,031
PlumX Metrics