Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why Have Supreme Court Justices Become So Verbose?

The Blogosphere is, predictably, all abuzz about the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FTC, about which I posted (here) the day the decision was announced. The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog (here) has a pretty good round up of visual sound-bites about the ruling.

To the litany of complaints about the decision, I would add my one of my own, which has become something of a hobby horse in recent years: why can't members of the Court write shorter opinions? All together, the various majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions in Citizens United add up to more than 170 pages of text, which is far too long for most people - other than law professors - to read. Members of the Court seem to have lost the understanding that they write opinions not just for each other and for legal scholars to dissect, but for the edification of the general public about the state and reason of the law. The Great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes never seemed to need more than a few pages to say what he wanted to say about the law, even on the most fundamental of constitutional issues (admittedly, he wasn't particularly concerned about  what anyone else, besides himself, thought about the Constitution). Today, it seems, every substantial Supreme Court ruling has to be the length of a book.

I would support a constitutional amendment to impose word limits on Supreme Court opinions!

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