The Lexicon Has Become a Fortress: The United States Supreme Court's Use of Dictionaries

76 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2006


This Article examines the use of dictionaries by the United States Supreme Court. Beginning with a short history of dictionaries and their use, the Article examines the Supreme Court Justices' use of dictionaries in their opinions throughout the history of the Court. The Article is critical of the Justices' lack of consistency in their use of dictionaries, and it discusses problems with the use of general purpose dictionaries in legal opinions. In conclusion, the Article makes several suggestions regarding how dictionaries still may be used as an important aid in legal analysis.

The appendices to this Article are available as separate downloads. The appendices list (1) every term ever defined by a dictionary in a Supreme Court opinion; (2) every case where a Supreme Court Justice has used a dictionary in an opinion; and (3) every dictionary used by a Supreme Court Justice.

An update to this Article, also available for download, is Samuel Thumma and Jeffrey L. Kirchmeier, The Lexicon Remains a Fortress: An Update, 5 The Green Bag 51 (2001).

Keywords: dictionary, dictionaries, supreme court, lexicon

JEL Classification: K10, K40, K00

Suggested Citation

Thumma, Samuel and Kirchmeier, Jeffrey L., The Lexicon Has Become a Fortress: The United States Supreme Court's Use of Dictionaries. Buffalo Law Review, Vol. 47, p. 227, 1999, Available at SSRN:

Samuel Thumma

Perkins Coie ( email )

2901 N. Central Avenue
Suite 2000
Phoenix, AZ 85012-2788
United States

Jeffrey L. Kirchmeier

CUNY School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States

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