Sunday, November 28, 2010

NY Times- Justices Are Long on Words but Short on Guidance

In his latest article on the Roberts era Supreme Court, New York Times author Adam Liptak questions whether the Court is trading unanimity and word count for for clarity and guidance. The author suggests that "[i]n decisions on questions great and small, the court often provides only limited or ambiguous guidance to lower courts. And it increasingly does so at enormous length."

To support his premise Liptak states that the Court hears less cases than it has in past terms but the median word count of its opinions has increased dramatically. "The Roberts court set a record last term, issuing majority opinions with a median word length of 4,751 words." The median word length for opinions, including majority and all separate opinions, was 8,265 words. In contrast, the median word length of opinions in the 1950s was only 2,000 words.

For example, the seminal 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education had fewer than 4,000 words while the 2007 Parents Involved v. Seattle decision, which touched on only a portion of the segregation issue, had approximately 47,000 words.

To read the rest of the article or other articles in this series click here.

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