The Strategic Use of Rhetoric: Disagreeable Language in Supreme Court Opinions
42 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2015 Last revised: 20 Oct 2015
Date Written: October 19, 2015
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
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