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Determinants of Writing Style on the United States Circuit Courts of Appeals

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

Jeffrey Budziak
Affiliation:
Western Kentucky University
Matthew P. Hitt
Affiliation:
Colorado State University
Daniel Lempert*
Affiliation:
SUNY Potsdam
*
Contact the corresponding author, Daniel Lempert, at lemperds@potsdam.edu.

Abstract

A rapidly burgeoning literature in judicial politics concerns the variation in elements of writing style such as reading difficulty, cognitive complexity, affective language, and informality in judicial opinions. Some of these studies argue that judges strategically alter their writing style in anticipation of reactions from other actors. Others indicate that writing style is a function of judge characteristics as well as case-related factors. We investigate the correlates of writing style in US Circuit Courts of Appeals by analyzing a stratified random sample consisting of 11,771 opinions. Construing style broadly to encompass several dimensions suggested by prior work, we find that case and judge characteristics explain substantially more variance in writing style than do strategic considerations.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2018 by the Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

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Footnotes

We thank Larry Baum, Julian Brooke, Greg Caldeira, Morgan Hazelton, and the reviewers and editor for helpful comments and suggestions. We also thank Brook Spurlock for excellent research assistance. Daniel Lempert acknowledges support from a New York State/United University Professions Individual Development Award.

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