U.S. Supreme Court

Kagan's opinions show mastery of the topic sentence and the 'stylish dig'


Justice Elena Kagan is pushing back at conservative bravado with well-written opinions that appeal to nonlawyers, according to a newspaper editorial writer.

The New York Times highlights some of Kagan’s best turns of phrase in an article by editorial board member Lincoln Caplan.

Kagan “is a master of the topic sentence (‘A trip back in time begins to show why’) and the stylish dig (‘wrong, wrong, and wrong again’),” Caplan writes. “Yet what puts her in a class by herself is her combination of down-to-earth writing and the ingredients essential to influential opinions: conceptual insight, penetrating legal analysis and argumentative verve.”

Caplan also has these highlights from Kagan opinions:

• “The court today resolves an imaginary question, based on a mistake the courts below made about this case and others like it. … Feel free to relegate the majority’s decision to the furthest reaches of your mind: The situation it addresses should never again rise.” (From a dissent to a court decision that kept the plaintiff out of court in a labor dispute)

• “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And to a court bent on diminishing the usefulness of Rule 23 [governing class actions] everything looks like a class action, ready to be dismantled.” (From a dissent to an opinion enforcing contract agreements that require arbitration and prohibit class-action claims)

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