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U.S. Supreme Court: Lots of words but little clarity

dmc-admin//November 22, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court: Lots of words but little clarity

dmc-admin//November 22, 2010

Just as North Carolina’s Supreme Court has fallen under criticism that it does not write enough opinions, leaving attorneys in some practice areas lacking crucial guidance, the U.S. Supreme Court is under fire for writing too much – but not saying enough.

A front-page article in the New York Times last week focused on criticism that the U.S. Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. often issues unwieldy opinions – including one that is roughly the length of The Great Gatsby – that don’t clearly address issues raised.

The article points out that Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision that held segregated schools were unconstitutional, was less than 4,000 words long. In 2007, the Roberts court published an opinion in Parents Involved v. Seattle that contained a whopping 47,000 words.

The median length of opinions reached an all-time high last term, the Times reports, and lower courts are complaining that they don’t contain clear guidance.

In North Carolina, the Federalist Society has published a paper criticizing the state’s highest court for not publishing enough opinions, and former Justice Bob Orr is preparing a law review article asking why the court doesn’t agree to hear more issues.

A Lawyers Weekly review of opinions (excluding one-page per curiam opinions) found that the number fell from 57 in 2002 to 34 in 2009.

The Administrative Office of the Courts has said the number of opinions is in no way indicative of the quality of the court’s work.

By SYLVIA ADCOCK, Staff Writer

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