Career Development » In SCOTUS Briefs, Wording Matters

In SCOTUS Briefs, Wording Matters

Unrecognizable people sitting in a row holding pens, notebooks and writing. 

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January 11, 2017

Flashy language won’t impress members of the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a study on the impact of legal briefs on the justices. Words like “brutal,” “irrational,” “hopeful,” or “lucky” are particularly unhelpful, says Ryan Black, a Michigan State University political scientist and co-author of the study. “The argument that we make is that when you use this flashier language – more sort of emotional language – that this is sending a signal to the justices that the credibility of your argument might not be particularly strong.” The study also dismisses the idea that Supreme Court justices are inherently partisan political figures who are likely to vote strictly by ideology. Partisanship is “not explaining 100 percent of the votes that are going, and actually [it’s] not even explaining close to 100 percent,” he says.

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