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Jeremiad or Weapon of Words?

The Power of Emotive Language in Supreme Court Dissents

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

Amanda C. Bryan*
Loyola University Chicago
Eve M. Ringsmuth
Oklahoma State University
Contact the corresponding author, Amanda C. Bryan, at


Unable to directly control the policy articulated by the Supreme Court, dissenting justices are faced with the challenge of finding alternative ways to pursue their policy goals. We argue that one strategy available to them is to use their power over the language of a dissenting opinion to increase the media attention paid to a case. Our results show that cases with negative dissents attract more media coverage, which creates a variety of mechanisms through which a dissenter’s policy preferences could be realized, such as inducing Congress to take action, influencing public debate on the issue, and provoking further litigation. This finding ultimately suggests that dissenters, while disadvantaged, are not powerless to affect legal policy.

Research Article
© 2016 by the Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

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An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, New Orleans. We thank Ryan Black for generously sharing his data, Justin Wedeking for his assistance with LIWC, Doug Rice and Tom Clark for providing advice on the use of their measure, and Marcus Hendershot, the editor, and the anonymous reviewers for feedback on this project.


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