What We Can Learn About Communication from Justice Kagan’s Supreme Court Opinions

Doctrinal Conversation: Justice Kagan’s Supreme Court Opinions

Laura Ray

Widener University – School of Law

November 12, 2013

 Indiana Law Journal Supplement, v. 89, 2013

Widener Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-39



In her first two terms on the Supreme Court, Justice Elena Kagan has crafted a distinctive judicial voice that speaks to her readers in a remarkably conversational tone. She employs a variety of rhetorical devices: invocations to “remember” or “pretend”; informal and even colloquial diction; a diverse assortment of similes and metaphors; and parenthetical interjections that guide the reader’s response. These strategies engage the reader in much the same way that Kagan as law professor may well have worked to engage her students, and in the context of judicial opinions they serve several purposes. They make Kagan’s opinions accessible to lay readers as well as legal professionals, a goal she has specified. More generally, her conversational style works to persuade her readers that her arguments are grounded in both legal doctrine and the familiar texture of human experience.

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