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Thursday, November 03, 2005

A New Parlor Game -- Name That Judge!

Allow me to suggest a new game for legal nerds: Name That Judge!  The premise is this: how few clues does it take to accurately guess the name of a judge (or Justice)?

There are any number of possible variants on this game.  In thinking about this, my own thoughts turned to the Eleventh Circuit, where I clerked.  I think that I can guess my way to the right judge with a fair degree of accuracy based on just one clue -- the number of pages of an opinion -- without seeing that opinion itself.  If it's over 25 pages, I'm ready to bet it's by Marcus or Tjoflat.  Alternatively, if it's that long and it's a dissent from denial of en banc review, it's the work of Judge Barkett.  If it's a concurrence and it's that long, it's my own Judge Carnes explaining why the Eleventh Circuit's policy on Booker-related plain error is right, by God.

Other suggestions?  Doubtless First Circuit aficionados will brag that if the opinion contains any word not generally available in anything less than the OED or a serious thesaurus, they will be able to identify the judge.  Ninth Circuit fans will (usually) be able to narrow the ruling to at least some subset of judges (ie., the Democratic appointees) based on whether or not the opinion has just been reversed by the Ninth Circuit.  I suppose if all we know about an opinion is that it relates details of the backroom procedural history, we know it's from the Sixth or the Ninth.  Doubtless there are Supreme-level versions of the game as well.

I'm open to other suggestions and/or boasts.

Posted by Paul Horwitz on November 3, 2005 at 06:45 PM in Law and Politics | Permalink

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Comments

My judge is a big fan of "by the time the reader is done with the fact section, she should know how the case comes out." So if the opinion has a detailed fact section -- and by the end of the section you know how the case comes out -- then it might be a Weinstein opinion.

Other indications of Weinstein opinions: They tend to be long. They are often very literate (the judge sends his clerks scurrying for the dictionary with his drafts). They completely avoid of the word "thus," which the judge deems useless. They use tight phrases; the judge is a big fan of getting rid of unnecessary words. Also, there is a complete absence of sentences that begin with "however." Finally, they show a willingness to reexamine all policy issues; nothing is off the table. (A sentencing opinion that I worked on discussed at some length the reasonableness of the plea bargaining system).

Because of these features, Weinstein opinions can often be identified. Many judges have some or all of these tendencies; but Weinstein opinions have a flavor that you pick up after reading several of them.

Of course, he writes major portions of his opinions himself. (Often the whole thing, and this might include a 30-pager). The clerks' do a good bit of drafting, but clerks' drafts are marked up heavily.

To the extent that a judge defered broadly to clerks in the drafting, I don't know that it would be possible to maintain a distinct style over any period of time.

Posted by: Kaimi | Nov 4, 2005 6:52:19 PM

When an opinion picks up a messy jurisdictional question; parses though it with ease; gives a concise, clear, and elegant explanation, and leaves you gasping “doh! Who could have thought that insufferable Fed Courts stuff actually makes sense?” – you know you are reading Easterbrook.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Nov 4, 2005 4:11:58 PM

Here's a way of identifying two judges with just one sentence in the Eleventh Circuit, with a pretty good chance of correctness: If there is a concurrence that says, "I agree with the result but that majority opinion sure has a lot of dictum in it that I don't necessarily join," the concurrence is by Judge Edmondson and the majority opinion is by Judge Tjoflat.

Posted by: Sam | Nov 4, 2005 2:07:11 PM

Justice Kennedy is identifiable by his tendency to write grand, eloquent statements devoid of substance but suitable for quotation in newspaper articles. E.g., the "sweet mystery of life" and "jurisprudence of doubt" passages in Casey. It is one reason why legal observers were able to say with a decent amount of certainty that he, and not Justice O'Connor, was the one who had taken primary responsibility for the opinion-writing in Bush v. Gore. I, by the way, have no information other than the infamous Vanity Fair article about the internal deliberations on that case.

Posted by: Mike Dimino | Nov 4, 2005 11:58:27 AM

I'm bothered by A3G's "Justice is Blind" items - or whatever she calls them - which are reminiscent of the gossip items in certain periodicals, with no names so a libel suit would be fruitless. In order to sue, you'd have to say that you were the one being oh-so-coyly described.

I have now seen a pair of references, on UTR and elsewhere, about a certain DJWSNBN, one with a particularly obvious disability, and that judge's unusual quirks. Between the two, I know which district they work in, but am bugged that I can't just figure out who it is the gossip blawgs are maligning. Or possibly describing accurately. Who was it who said, "We didn't give them hell. We just gave them the truth, and they thought it was hell."? Similar to "They said they'd stop lying about us if we'd stop telling the truth about them."

Posted by: Eh Nonymous | Nov 4, 2005 10:08:10 AM

I'm bothered by A3G's "Justice is Blind" items - or whatever she calls them - which are reminiscent of the gossip items in certain periodicals, with no names so a libel suit would be fruitless. In order to sue, you'd have to say that you were the one being oh-so-coyly described.

I have now seen a pair of references, on UTR and elsewhere, about a certain DJWSNBN, one with a particularly obvious disability, and that judge's unusual quirks. Between the two, I know which district they work in, but am bugged that I can't just figure out who it is the gossip blawgs are maligning. Or possibly describing accurately. Who was it who said, "We didn't give them hell. We just gave them the truth, and they thought it was hell."? Similar to "They said they'd stop lying to us if we'd stop telling the truth about them."

Posted by: Eh Nonymous | Nov 4, 2005 10:07:45 AM

Yea, Posner's easy. A District Judge Who Shall Not Be Named can be recognied by comparing the number of pages (many) to the difficulty of the issue (none). Another DJWSNBN can be recognized by comparing the remand decision to the pre-remand decision and noticing how the reversed bits have snuck back in. An unpublished disposition that fails to address the appellant's central constitutional argument comes from the Fourth Circuit (and I can probably nail at least one member of the panel with 50% probability). Any blatantly wrong death penalty opinion will be the Fifth, and any opinion using the phrase "libel-proof" or "incremental harm doctrine" will be the Second.

Of course, any opinion that refers to a dictionary, particularly a really old one, will be Scalia. As will any opinion that makes repeated reference to monsters or monarchs (and the Court turning itself into one).

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Nov 3, 2005 10:44:19 PM

I can almost always recognize Posner and Easterbrook opinions from a single sentence. C.f. my post here: http://www.crescatsententia.org/archives/2005_05_06.html#005373

Posted by: Will Baude | Nov 3, 2005 9:30:55 PM

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