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The Use of Rhetorical Sources by the U.S. Supreme Court

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This study considers whether U.S. Supreme Court justices use opinion content strategically, to enhance the legitimacy of case outcomes. This hypothesis is tested by examining the Court's use of rhetorical sources, which are references to esteemed figures and texts that corroborate the justices' views. The data are consistent with the position that justices use rhetorical sources strategically, citing them when the legitimacy of their actions is lowest, such as when they are overturning precedent, invalidating state or federal law, or issuing directives from a divided bench. The study also tests several other explanations for the use of these sources, such as legal considerations, the justices' ideologies, and efficiency concerns.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science at Fordham University

Publication date: 01 December 2006

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