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Accentuate the positive, obfuscate the negative: Complexity in U.S. Supreme Court opinions, 1953--1995

Christine C Pappas, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Current scholars of US Supreme Court decision making have focused on how precedent, attitudes, and norms shape the decisions of the Supreme Court. This dissertation posits a new norm, called the “norm of clarity.” It is hypothesized that there are two conditions under which the Supreme Court becomes more “clear” in the opinions it writes. The first condition is whether the public is watching. The second condition is whether the Court's decision is “rights granting” or “rights restricting.” The norm of clarity helps us better understand the relationship between the Supreme Court and the public and how the Court nurtures this relationship. After examining 200 Supreme Court race and antitrust opinions coded using the United States Supreme Court Judicial Database, 1953–1997 Terms on a complexity scale, there is support for the hypothesis that variation in complexity springs from whether the public is watching and whether the Court is granting rights to this attentive public. ^

Subject Area

History, United States|Law|Political Science, General

Recommended Citation

Pappas, Christine C, "Accentuate the positive, obfuscate the negative: Complexity in U.S. Supreme Court opinions, 1953--1995" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3055285.