Lawyers: What do you think of Justice Scalia?

Ok, not his politics, and not his judicial theories.

I want to know what you think of the way he writes his opinions. To me he seems to be the best writer on the court these days. (Contrast with Stevens who is such a dolt) I find that reading Scalia opinions is easy, they are well laid out, the arguments are clear, and his use of language is often times funny, but he can be brutal to the other side in a sort of Christopher Hitchens kind of way that I like too. What opinions of his have you read that struck you as particularly well done? What do you think of him?

I guess I haven’t paid attention to his writing style because I’m too concerned with the content of the decisions. He’s the justice who is least respected by law professors in my experience. OK, probably after Thomas, but he never has much to say. The one thing I remember about his style is that he runs to Webster’s all the time. Dictionary definitions are useful on the SDMB but shouldn’t decided the outcome of a case. The fact that his decisions are clear to a non-lawyer is probably a poor reflection on his legal reasoning. Not that I’m a fan of unnecessarily convoluted language, but the law isn’t simple.

Really? My experience has been quite the opposite. Most of my profs. tend to not like Scalia’s outcomes, but they seem to respect his reasoning. I think his references to the dictionary, particularly in a dissent, are most likely a reaction against a majority’s strained reading of the language of a statute, not a sign of weakness in his argument.

I’d be curious to know; Who do you think is the most respected Justice?

How can you say that Stevens is the worst writer? Have you even read some of those Souter opinions? Talk about turgid prose…

I don’t think Scalia is the least respected justice by any swath of the population across any political spectrum. He provides grist for the academic mill. And he’s the icon of evil you love to hate, the bete noir…

I like Scalia’s way of describing the Lemon test as an undead zombie. I like his opinion in Morrison for ridiculing the majority’s characterization of the limitation on the President’s removal power to a “for cause” standard as providing a means of control over the independent counsel: “The idea that the power to remove for good cause provides means of control over independent counsel is like referring to shackles as an effective means of locomotion.”

But even if he has some funny turns of phrase, you get the sense sometimes that his opinions are just a bit too glib, too superficial.

[Hijack] Ran across something on Lexis that seems to be a guaranteed timewaster: Thomas E. Baker, A Compendium of Clever and Amusing Law Review Writings: An Idiosyncratic Bibliography of Miscellany with in Kind Annotations as a Humorous Diversion for the Gentle Reader, 51 Drake L. Rev. 105 (2002).

I’m exactly the opposite of the OP. I think Stevens’ opinions are very well done and practically a pleasure to read. It probably helps that I agree with Stevens about 90% of the time.

By contrast, Scalia seems to like to write his opinions as densely and confusingly as possible. Not to mention that he has a tendency to be over-dramatic. I mean, did you read his dissent in the Casey Martin case? The last paragraph reads like a temper tantrum.

Agreed. Scalia is smug when things go his way and pouty and abusive when they don’t. Still, there’s nobody currently on the Court I’d exactly call a Cardozo.

Law clerks write all the really good opinions anyway. :wink:

God but I hate reading Stevens! Funny you mention the Casey Martin case, because it was reading that dissent (and Steven’s majority opinion) that inspired this thread! Different strokes I suppose. :slight_smile:

pravnik, whaddya mean the clerks write all the really good opinions? You’ve got to know that Scalia writes every lick of his own opinions. It’s an irrefutable rule of nature – of similar stature to the law of gravity – that there can be only one incarnation of Torquemada alive at any one time. Therefore, I submit that Scalia alone writes his opinions, as they can be the work of none other than a wise-cracking disembowlment specialist. But what do I know, I’m just a bleeding heart lib that wants to let all the criminals out of jail so we can hold hands and sing Kumbaya in a field of daisies while the criminals slowly sodomize our children.

Egad!! That’s quite an image you’ve put in my mind, Mr. Hand. Is there a word for simultaneously cringing and laughing out loud? I’m submitting your name to your Senator for consideration next time a seat on the bench comes vacant; that prose must be preserved for the ages in the reporters. :smiley:

Okay, okay, I admit Scalia’s cler…er, Scalia can be bitingly funny, in a churlish sort of way. I’m sure if he wasn’t my political antithesis I’d find his opinions much more palatable.

My law school friends and I called Scalia the Disgruntled Postal Worker, because he basically gets into a pissing match whenever he’s really upset with the majority. Most professors I have consider him a good thinker (and that includes the liberal ones), not sure about how they regard him as a writer.

I find often find Rehnquist’s opinions incredibly poorly written, but whatever…I clerk for an appeals court judge myself, maybe my writing sucks too.

Thanks, pravnik. I’ll hold my breath waiting for that nomination. I’ll be the first escaped lab rat judge – the sympathy vote will get me through confirmation hearings faster than shit through a prehensile rectum. [Link not provided as public service to those with quick mouse fingers and weak stomachs from some serious TMI.]

Rehnquist has publicly acknowledged that his clerks write the first draft for all of his opinions – despite the fact that in the 50s he wrote an article for Time or Life or something like that decrying the influence the clerks have on opinions. Maybe that’s why they’re bland.

Other than Souter and Breyer – both of whom sometimes I suspect can’t write their way out of a wet paper bag – I think I’d nominate per curiam for the worst writer. Ever see what that lunatic wrote in Buckley v. Valeo? Weighing in with 178 footnotes, it beats out Frankfurter’s 143-note separate opinion in McGowan v. Maryland for most footnotes ever. Plus, it totally sucked. Worst. Opinion. Ever.

As far as current justices with a distinct lack of style, how about Ginsburg? She inflicted the following two sins upon the United States reports: Norfolk Southern Ry. v. Shanklin, 529 U.S. 344, 361 (2000) (Ginsburg, J., dissenting) (dissenting from opinion holding that Federal Highway Administration approval of a railroad crossing pre-empts application of state law, Justice Ginsburg noted that “the road is open for the Secretary of Transportation to enact regulations clarifying that point”); Bennis v. Michigan, 516 U.S. 442, 458 (1996) (Ginsburg, J., concurring) (writing that in enacting law providing for forfeiture of vehicles used by persons soliciting prostitutes, “Michigan has decided to deter johns from using cars they own … to contribute to neighborhood blight,” a play on the fact that the petitioner’s husband – who had lost her car by cruising for prostitutes in it – was named John). I hope to God it’s her clerks that are responsible for these little gems. If it’s her, oh man… sort of contradicts her famous intellect, no?

I don’t read many Supreme Court decisions these days, but of cases over recent years, Ginsburg’s decision in the VMI case never made any sense. It wasn’t so much a matter of writing ability as it was about rationale. Even more confusing is that it was actually the majority opinion.

Scalia’s majority opinions and most concurrences seem well thought out and well written, but his dissents border on the inflamatory.