The Strategic Use of Rhetoric: Disagreeable Language in Supreme Court Opinions

42 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2015 Last revised: 20 Oct 2015

See all articles by Justin Wedeking

Justin Wedeking

University of Kentucky - Department of Political Science

Michael Zilis

University of Kentucky - Department of Political Science

Date Written: October 19, 2015

Abstract

We explore the factors that lead Supreme Court justices to integrate disagreeable rhetoric into their written, signed opinions. We suggest that deploying disagreeable rhetoric is a costly exercise that is governed by strategic considerations. In particular, we posit that justices will be more willing to pay the costs of disagreeability for issues that are of high personal or legal significance, while they will prove less willing to employ disagreeable rhetoric as they drive to accommodate an ideologically diverse set of colleagues. Examining judicial opinions from 1946-2011 using text-based measures of negative language, we find consistent evidence on both accounts. Moreover, we find that several predictors are robust across majority, dissenting, and concurring opinions. Finally, to explore one consequence of disagreeable rhetoric, we show that it is negatively related to the size of majority coalitions, suggesting important implications for the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

Keywords: Supreme Court opinions, negative language, disagreeableness, collegiality

Suggested Citation

Wedeking, Justin and Zilis, Michael, The Strategic Use of Rhetoric: Disagreeable Language in Supreme Court Opinions (October 19, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2628819 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2628819

Justin Wedeking

University of Kentucky - Department of Political Science ( email )

1615 Patterson Office Tower
University of Kentucky
Lexington, KY 40506-0027
United States

Michael Zilis (Contact Author)

University of Kentucky - Department of Political Science ( email )

Lexington, KY 40506
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
69
Abstract Views
479
rank
337,233
PlumX Metrics