Federal appeals judge complains about 'show-off' opinions

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A federal appeals judge told Harvard Law School students Wednesday that judges should focus on writing opinions that “ordinary citizens can understand.”

Judges should avoid “show-off” opinions that contain distracting jargon, bad jokes and pop culture references, said Judge Stephanos Bibas of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Philadelphia.

Reuters covered Bibas’ remarks, made during a law school lecture.

“For the show-off, it seems to be all about the judge’s musings, even the judge’s ambitions to be noticed,” Bibas said. “‘Look at me, look at me, I’m so cool.’ That is not authoritative. It is even disrespectful.”

Some judges appear to crave attention on social media, but “the kind of cheerleading you get from Twitter is really dangerous,” he said.

Bibas, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, pointed to an opinion that he wrote in a 2020 election challenge as an example of writing with clarity.

In the first paragraph, he wrote: “Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

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