Enough Said: A Proposal for Shortening Supreme Court Opinions

23 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2017 Last revised: 1 May 2019

Date Written: July 1, 2018


The role of the judiciary, Chief Justice Marshall famously advised, is “to say what the law is.” Yet, how often do the justices issue a written opinion that ordinary Americans can understand? The Supreme Court increasingly issues lengthy and complex opinions, often containing multiple concurring and dissenting opinions. These opinions can be as confusing as they are verbose.

“To Say What the Law Is Succinctly: A Brief Proposal,” analyzes the justices’ legal writing. Are the justices effective in saying what the law is? Insufficient attention has been devoted to evaluating the justices’ writing and their efficacy at communicating the law. Five of the eleven longest opinions in Supreme Court history belong to the Roberts’ Court.

After comparing the length of modern Court opinions to Shakespeare and other literary works, the article concludes with a proposal for brevity. I propose the justices voluntarily accept to limit all majority opinions to 9,000 words (the same word limit for petitions for certiorari) and concurring and dissenting opinions to 3,000 words (the limit for motions for rehearing).

In the spirit of my own proposal, this article comes in below 9,000 words.

Keywords: Supreme Court, Legal Writing, Judicial Opinions, Majority Opinion, Concurring Opinion, Dissenting Opinion

Suggested Citation

Penrose, Meg Mary Margaret, Enough Said: A Proposal for Shortening Supreme Court Opinions (July 1, 2018). Scribes Journal of Legal Writing, Vol. 19, 2018-2019; Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 18-58. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3083499 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3083499

Meg Mary Margaret Penrose (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
United States

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