University of Illinois Press, 1996

In The Opinion Of The Court, the first close examination of judicial opinions as a literary genre, looks at opinions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals, and district courts, tracing their history, function, and place in legal literature.

The book explores the connection between judges and their audiences, on the one hand, and judicial opinions and their functions, on the other. He also reveals the key roles played by the reporting and publication of judicial opinions in advancing distinctly American values, the dominance exercised by the best opinion writers, and the rise of the law clerk as an individual increasingly called on to write opinions.

The book pays special attention to Learned Hand and Oliver Wendell Holmes, traditionally seen as the best practitioners of the genre, and devotes a chapter to Richard Posner, Chief Judge of the Seventh Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, seen as carrying on the Hand-Holmes tradition. The author’s clear, informal writing style makes this volume accessible to any educated reader. It will be particularly attractive to political scientists and literary scholars, as well as to attorneys and to teachers and students of law.


“A clearly written and fascinating study of the history and craft of judicial opinion writing. Original in research and analysis, this is the best treatment of this important topic.”
–Erwin Chemerinsky, Professor of Law, University of Southern California

“Elegantly written . . . Splendidly original and thoughtful. Reading this book constitutes a small legal education in itself.”
–Samuel F. Pickering, Professor of English, University of Connecticut