Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chief justice's noir-tinged dissent gets mixed reviews

Chief justice's noir-tinged dissent gets mixed reviews, Nat'l L.J. (web), Oct. 16, 2008:
The Legal Times reported Tuesday on Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.'s seemingly whimsical experiment in opinion writing in the style of a hard-boiled detective novel. Dissenting from the denial of review in Pennsylvania v. Dunlap, Roberts painted a noir setting in which police officer Sean Devlin, working in a Philadelphia neighborhood that is as "tough as a three-dollar steak," suspects defendant Nathan Dunlap of selling drugs after viewing a transaction in which Dunlap exchanges small packages for cash. "Devlin knew the guy wasn't buying bus tokens," Roberts wrote in his new literary style. Sure enough, Devlin had sold three bags of crack, and he was arrested.

It made for unusually riveting reading, but not everyone was entertained, it turns out. Blog commentary here and here includes some criticism of Roberts' tone as dismissive of the defendant and the issue he raised.
Orin Kerr suggests that the Chief Justice might have been trying to do more than entertain: perhaps he hoped to bring more attention to the denial of cert to get the attention of lower court judges.

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