Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Supreme Court writing tips

Legal writing maven Bryan Garner interviewed 8 of the 9 then-sitting SCOTUS justices about good prose in briefs, and now his transcripts are online. BLT reports:
All the justices, in one way or another, urged lawyers to write succinctly and resist the urge to write to the maximum allowed length. Justice Stephen Breyer put it this way: "Don’t try to put in everything. Use a little editing, I would say. If I see something 50 pages, it can be 50 pages, but I’m already going to groan. And I’m going to wonder, Did he really have to write that 50 pages? I would have preferred 30. And if I see 30, I think, Well, he thinks he’s really got the law on his side because he only took up 30."
I used exactly that tactic in a recent MSSC appeal where the appellee had filed a grossly inflated brief. Hope it helped.

Our hero David Souter declined to be interviewed by Garner:
"I've never been satisfied with my own prose," he told Garner in a note. "Since I don’t think my own work is worth writing home about, I’d feel presumptuous telling other people what they ought to do."
Classic Souter.

(H/t Bashman.)

... Following the link, we find that (1) Justice Breyer likes Stendhal (could he be our new favorite justice? ... nah), and (2) Joseph Kimball, who writes the introduction to the transcripts, can't spell "Stendhal." Ironic.

... Ginsburg took Nabokov's literature class at Cornell, but graduated in 1954 and thus did not have Thomas Pynchon as a classmate.
He was a man in love with the sound of words. He taught me the importance of choosing the right word and presenting it in the right word order. He changed the way I read, the way I write. He was an enormous influence.
... Something I can agree with Scalia about:
Another one of my bêtes noires of legalisms is nexus. Yeah, nexus. What is it? It’s Latin for “connection.” You don’t make it more scientific at all by calling it a nexus.
Scalia also casts some doubt on Souter's modesty:
I think the biggest snoot on the Court used to be Harry Blackmun, and Harry and I joined forces to try to police the Court’s opinions [laughter]. On the current Court, I think probably David Souter is a snoot. Ruth is too polite to be a snoot, but she cares a lot about proper use of the mother tongue.

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