On the clarity of SCOTUS opinions

US Supreme Court Opinions and their Audiences (Cambridge UP, 2017) by Ryan C. Black, Ryan J. Owens, Justin Wedeking and Patrick C. Wohlfarth is the first study specifically to investigate the extent to which US Supreme Court justices alter the clarity of their opinions based on expected reactions from their audiences. The authors examine this dynamic by creating a unique measure of opinion clarity and then testing whether the Court writes clearer opinions when it faces ideologically hostile and ideologically scattered lower federal courts; when it decides cases involving poorly performing federal agencies; when it decides cases involving states with less professionalized legislatures and governors; and when it rules against public opinion. The data shows the Court writes clearer opinions in every one of these contexts, and demonstrates that actors are more likely to comply with clearer Court opinions. For more, the work was reviewed in the April issue of Law and Politics Book Review here. — Joe

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