Prof Co-Authors Study About Dictionary Use in SCOTUS Opinions
The Washington Post recently featured a study that Fordham Law professor James Brudney co-authored with Lawrence Baum of Ohio State University. The study argues that Supreme Court justices increasingly use dictionary definitions to give subjective decisions an objective feel.
The justices do not consult dictionaries to discover previously unknown word meanings but rather to choose a ‘correct’ word meaning from various options.
Brudney and Baum say that a sharp increase in the use of dictionaries occurred during the Rehnquist court, when the court’s decisions and justices were being criticized for ideological decision-making. The two professors also claim that the justices are very inconsistent with how they use dictionaries, perhaps demonstrating that the method is sometimes used to justify a particular decision.
This pattern is consistent with a practice of seeking out definitions that fit a justice’s conception of what a word should mean rather than using dictionaries to determine that meaning.
Read coverage of Professor Brudney’s study in The Washington Post.