In this new series I look at Supreme Court opinions to provide a sense of the opinion’s writing quality and content. Although there is no consensus measure for writing quality, I have used StyleWriter 4 in past papers (e.g. Counting on Quality) and it does a good job of tailoring linguistic analyses to legal content (it allows the user to set the type of document to “legal” so that the statistics are based on good writing for legal documents). The statistics, while providing a measure of quality that can be used across documents to make comparisons might not equate with all readers’ views of what constitutes well-written documents. Furthermore the software is not infallible and so it might not pick up on complex facets of language such as idioms, oxymorons, etc.
With this in mind first I look to the content of the Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. (No. 14-1382) opinion. As with a previous post I created a wordcloud in R that is weighted based on terms appearing most frequently in the opinion.
This corresponds nicely with the case syllabus as is evident below (I provide the beginning paragraph) and even clarifies additional issues not covered in the syllabus that are brought up in the opinion:
“Respondents, corporate citizens of Delaware, Nebraska, and Illinois, sued petitioner Americold Realty Trust, a “real estate investment trust” organized under Maryland law, in a Kansas court. Americold removed the suit to Federal District Court based on diversity-of citizenship jurisdiction. See 28 U. S. C. §§1332(a)(1), 1441(b). The District Court accepted jurisdiction and ruled in Americold’s favor. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit held that the District Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit. Since Americold was not a corporation, the court reasoned, its citizenship for diversity jurisdiction purposes should be based on the citizenship of its members, which included its shareholders. Because no record of those shareholders’ citizenship existed, diversity was not proved.”
To perform the text analysis I stripped the opinion of case citations to rely on the original language in the opinion. The statistical measures are based on term-dictionaries so that “passive index,” for instance, uses a dictionary of passive verbiage to measure the passivity present in the opinion. There are many other measures that the software provides but the ones I include are the most relevant to the overall quality of the written opinion.
|Average Sentence Length||14.6 Words|
|Scale (based on legal writing)||
Long Sentence Limit
We can also look at a graph of sentence length that depicts the relative number of sentences at certain word lengths in the opinion.
All-in-all, and taking into account that legal writing is generally a wordy endeavor, this opinion ranks as well-written and easily readable. It is succinct and uses active language that should engage the reader.