Cornell Law Review Volume 96 Issue 6

Judicial Ghostwriting: Authorship on the Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justices, unlike the President or members of Congress, perform their work with relatively little staffing. Each Justice processes the docket, hears cases, and writes opinions with the assistance of only their law clerks. The relationship between Justices and their clerks is of intense interest to legal scholars and the public, but it remains largely unknown. This Article analyzes the text of the Justices’ opinions to better understand judicial authorship. Based on the use of common function words, we find that Justices vary in writing style, from which it is possible to accurately distinguish one from another. Their writing styles also inform how clerks influence the opinion-writing process. Current Justices, with few exceptions, exhibit significantly higher variability in their writing than their predecessors, both within and across years. These results strongly suggest that Justices are increasingly relying on their clerks to write opinions.


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