Justice Scalia’s Influence on Legal Writing is Questioned

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law School and Constitutional Law Scholar

Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law School and author of the textbook Constitutional Law, recently wrote an op-ed for the L.A. Times in which he noted a pattern he has seen in his students of mimicking Justice Antonin Scalia’s writing style. He is not pleased.

Justice Scalia is well-known for his confrontational and colorful battles with the left side of the bench, particularly with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. His dissents unabashedly slander the opposing point of view and use such phrases as “gobbledy-gook,” “beyond absurd,” and “mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.” He even wrote that if he had shared the opposing side’s opinion he would “hide [his] head in a bag.”

Chemerinksy makes a good point: while we often find Scalia’s opinions and dissents amusing, should attorneys, judges and new students be expressing their opinion in this manner? Lawyers are held to a high standard of ethics in this country and are expected to be respectful of the court and of all parties involved. Is it professional to attack fellow lawyers and judges by ridiculing and demeaning them? Scalia’s colorful dissents might be getting the public more interested in the law but at what cost?