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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Art for law's sake

Scott Dodson and Ami Dodson have a fun contribution to a Green Bag micro-symposium on A Top Ten Ranking of the U.S. Supreme Court. They identify the "most literary" justice by citation to great works of literature (Spoiler Alert: It's Scalia, by a lot). I was surprised that Roberts was low, citing literary work in only two of 135 opinions. Given Roberts' often-florid writing style, I would have expected literary references to be part of that.

Then I realized that Roberts' focus seems to be more visual art than literature. Without looking it up, I recall him citing Jackson Pollack, Sargent's Gassed, and Delacroix's Liberty, to say nothing of The Wizard of Oz (depending on how one categorizes motion pictures).







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Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 10, 2015 at 12:00 PM in Howard Wasserman | Permalink


Don't forget the Sprint v. APCC dissent on assigned causes of action and standing:

The absence of any right to the substantive recovery means that respondents cannot benefit from the judgment they seek and thus lack Article III standing. “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone, on Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia Records 1965).

Posted by: Asher | Sep 11, 2015 5:53:32 PM

You may be right that florid is the wrong word. I could not quite find the word to capture what I was getting at. But perhaps the general terseness and straightforwardness of Robert's opinions explains why turns of phrase and figurative language stand out so much--they are so rhetorically inconsistent as to feel out of place.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Sep 11, 2015 10:40:08 AM

Thanks, Howard. I guess there are examples like the one you raise, though I've always thought of his writing style as generally terse, compact, and, in the main, fairly straightforward. Sometimes it's so tight as to make one wish that there were a lot more in the way of development. In fact, relatively few of the Justices (though there are some) write in what I'd call a florid style by comparison to the style of Justices past (when they wrote in what was once called "the Grand Style" as compared to "the Formal style"). Maybe the meaning of "florid" is what's up for grabs.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Sep 11, 2015 10:28:41 AM

I have written before about Roberts's tendency to pack his opinions with similes and metaphors and turns-of-phrase, which often can be quite distracting or feel as if he is trying too hard. For example, his reference to Jackson Pollock came in the following, from Gunn v. Minton: "[W]e do not paint on a blank canvas. Unfortunately, the canvas looks like one that Jackson Pollock got to first."

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Sep 11, 2015 10:15:37 AM

"Roberts's florid writing style"? Maybe such things are subjective.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Sep 11, 2015 8:55:00 AM

Had Roberts written Yates he no doubt would have observed that Honore Daumier's little-known lithograph, "Evidence Destruction," does not portray anyone tossing overboard oversized fish.

Posted by: Asher | Sep 10, 2015 4:51:53 PM

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