Wednesday, April 22, 2009

See! Some Lawyers *Can* Write

The Supreme Court's decision in Nken v. Holder, No. 08-681, is worth a quick look for a couple of reasons. The issue is whether a "stay" is the same thing as an "injunction". Seven justices say no, they aren't the same thing. Two of these seven concur and write separately. And two of them dissent.

The first interesting aspect of this case is the lineup. Justice Roberts writes the majority opinion (more on that in a second). He is joined by, er, Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer. Weird, eh? Doesn't happen a whole lot. Justice Kennedy writes a concurrence and he's joined by . . . Justice Scalia. That doesn't happen a whole lot, either. Justices Alito and Thomas, finally, dissent. This is less weird.

The second interesting aspect of the decision is that Justice Roberts' majority opinion is really well-written. Especially that first paragraph. There are still way too many lawyers who insist upon writing like it's 1899. Part of this is law school, where often-unintelligible opinions written a million years ago are fetishized in large part because it's nearly impossible to figure what in the world the judge is talking about. And part of it is arrogance: we write like crap because they took our powdered wigs away from us and we need some other way to differentiate ourselves from the masses. But opinions like this one by Justice Roberts -- clear, simple, logical, and no longer than it needs to be -- come along every once in a while. We'll take them where we can get them.

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