Oh, excuse us. Suits & Sentences has just been reviewing Justice Sonia Sotomayor's inaugural opinion as a member of the Supreme Court. So how does it stack up and what does it show us about her writing style?
First off, this is a fool's errand -- precisely why Suits & Sentences is attempting it! The facts alone in the case Mohawk Industries v. Carpenter provide almost no opportunity for Sotomayor to strut her stuff, narratively speaking. The case involving the attorney-client privilege and the collateral order doctrine falls far short, in terms of inherent drama, from a case that also drew an opinion Tuesday -- authored by Chief Justice John Roberts:
Writes the chief justice, who has previously shown a nice noir-ish touch:
"On the night of October 23, 1986, Kindler broke through a skylight on the 13th floor of the jail and escaped to the roof, where he stood 175 feet above the ground...(he) remained on the lam for more than two years."
On the lam: nicely colloquial, Mr. Chief Justice!
Sotomayor's 13-page opinion does the fundamental job, obviously; essentially rallying a unanimous court, though Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in part.
The writing is workmanlike, whose matter-of-fact -- to say the least -- style is revealed in the opening sentence, the lede in newspaper jargon:
"Section 1291 of the Judicial Code confers on federal court of appeals jurisdiction to review 'final decisions' of the district courts."
Leading with a background statement about jurisdiction is not a way to invite readers. But then, the real readers of this opinion will not be so shallow as to look primarily at how closely the justice follows conventional journalism formats...
Stylewise: Suits & Sentences will propound a theory -- made up just now -- that the less experienced the justice, the more citations will be used in an opinion. The idea being: justices still finding their way will be more likely to to lean on the words and authority of others.