Friday Double Poll: Best and Worst SCOTUS Writers - U.S. Supreme Court
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Friday Double Poll: Best and Worst SCOTUS Writers

The topic of the week for me seems to be legal writing. And my favorite type of post is the "poll the audience" post because it means I can be a spineless scribe and take no stance whatsoever.

So, after writing an advice column for law students and young attorneys about legal writing, I decided to shelve my "Sexiest SCOTUS Justice" topic for a few more weeks and instead ask you, dear readers, who you think the best and worst writers among our Supreme Court justices?

A note: I'm including a few suggestions from myself, the press, blogs, and Twitter friends, but I'll include all nine justices in each poll, just in case.

The Best

Justice Elena Kagan: Jeffrey Rosen started the bandwagon in 2011. The New York Times and the Volokh Conspiracy jumped aboard in 2013. Why are they such big fans? Kagan writes with style, but her style doesn't mask her points. Her opening paragraphs are short, to the point, and completely clear. As the Times notes, she "is the first Supreme Court justice appointed in almost 40 years who wasn't a judge before she arrived at the court. In a good way, it shows."

Justice Antonin Scalia: The Volokh piece, praising Kagan, compares her to Scalia, and for good reason: he's well known as one of the best writers on the court, as well as one of the most influential justices in history. He's co-authored multiple books on reading and writing law with Bryan Garner. And his bluster and snark really break up the tedium of reading SCOTUS opinions all week long.

Chief Justice John Roberts: He's such a great writer that there is a guide on how to write like him. (Thanks to Rob Dean and the De Novo blog for the link!) Need we say more?

Justice Clarence Thomas: Many will disagree with this nomination, but hear me out for a second. What makes a "good" writer? Brevity? Accessible language? Justice Thomas' opinions are twenty-five percent shorter than his colleagues and he instructs his clerks to write so that the common man can understand the opinion. Style be damned:

"The editing we do is for clarity and simplicity without losing meaning, and without adding things. You don't see a lot of double entendres, you don't see word play and cuteness. We're not there to win a literary award. We're there to write opinions that some busy person or somebody at their kitchen table can read and say, "I don't agree with a word he said, but I understand what he said."

Who is the Best SCOTUS Writer?

Justice Antonin Scalia
Justice Anthony Kennedy
Justice Clarence Thomas
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Stephen Breyer
Chief Justice John G. Roberts
Justice Samuel Alito
Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Justice Elena Kagan
Poll Maker


The Worst

Justice Anthony Kennedy: Jeffrey Rosen wrote that Kennedy's "prose alternates between bureaucratic and grandiose, resulting in sentences that manage to be pompous and clueless at the same time." After reading countless Kennedy opinions, I couldn't agree more.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: One of our favorite readers nominated her. We've talked about her struggles with other justices. Josh Blackman highlights Justice Ginsburg's revelations about her need to affirm her beliefs to the masses. All of this supports the argument that she is insecure, ineffective, and a proper inclusion on this list.

Justice Clarence Thomas: Because I know that many of y'all aren't fans. Because when I search Google for "worst supreme court justice writer," it auto-suggests Clarence Thomas.

Who is the Worst SCOTUS Writer?

Justice Antonin Scalia
Justice Anthony Kennedy
Justice Clarence Thomas
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Stephen Breyer
Chief Justice John G. Roberts
Justice Samuel Alito
Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Justice Elena Kagan

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