A Quantitative Analysis of Writing Style on the U.S. Supreme Court
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
This paper presents the results of a quantitative analysis of writing style for the entire corpus of U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The basis for this analysis is frequency of function words, which has been found to be a useful “stylistic fingerprint” and which we use as a general proxy for the stylistic features of a text or group of texts. Based on this stylistic fingerprint measure, we examine temporal trends on the Court, verifying that there is a “style of the time” and that contemporaneous Justices are more stylistically similar to their peers than to temporally remote Justices. We examine potential “internal” causes of stylistic changes, and conduct an in-depth analysis of the role of the modern institution of the judicial clerk in influencing writing style on the Court. Using two different measures of stylistic consistency, one measuring intra-year consistency on the Court and the other examining inter-year consistency for individual Justices, we find evidence that clerks have increased the institutional consistency of the Court, but have reduced the individual consistency of the Justices.