Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Justice Thomas on Concision and Accessibility

In a fascinating exchange recounted by the Atlantic, Justice Thomas tied editing and concise writing to the Court's duty to deliver the law in an accessible way:

What I tell my law clerks is that we write these so that they are accessible to regular people. That doesn't mean that there's no law in it. But there are simple ways to put important things in language that's accessible. As I say to them, the beauty, the genius is not to write a 5 cent idea in a ten dollar sentence. It's to put a ten dollar idea in a 5 cent sentence.

That's beauty. That's editing. That's writing.

The editing we do is for clarity and simplicity without losing meaning, and without adding things. You don't see a lot of double entendres, you don't see word play and cuteness. We're not there to win a literary award. We're there to write opinions that some busy person or somebody at their kitchen table can read and say, "I don't agree with a word he said, but I understand what he said."

Whatever may be said about Justice Thomas's ideology or jurisprudence, I cannot help but be struck by the eloquence and thoughtfulness of his approach.  Clarity in legal writing, particularly when you are a Supreme Court justice, serves an undeniable social good.




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