WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — New computer-driven research suggests that Supreme Court justices are getting grumpier, according to a new study by scholars at Dartmouth and the University of Virginia.
Researchers studied the frequency of the use of “content-free” words which reveal stylistic differences that are “the foundation for the large-scale study of literary style,” as reported by Bloomberg.
The scholars found that modern justices have grumpier, or less friendly, opinions than other justices. This analysis was based on the percentage of positive words versus negative words. In addition, modern justices tend to produce more words and have a lower grade level than their predecessors. At the same time, the research found that modern justices’ language is easier to understand.
The authors included 107 justices through 2008 and ranked them based on negative words (“two-faced,” “problematic”) and positive words (“adventurous,” “pre-eminent”). The high court’s first chief justice, John Jay, ranked number one with a score of 1.55 percent friendliness rating. Numbers 103 through 106 are current members of the court, including Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, and Samuel Alito. Antonin Scalia earned the number 98 spot with a score of -0.69 percent friendliness.
Another key finding to take into consideration is that law clerks play a bigger role in assisting justices since the 1950s. The study says that justices’ individual writing styles are less consistent probably due to different law school graduates helping each year. The product is an increasing sameness due to justices’ reliance on clerk assistance.
“Comparing texts over a long time horizon may be problematic for a variety of reasons,” the scholars write, “including that a text that reads relatively friendly in one time period may read as downright nasty in another (or vice versa).”
The study was conducted by Dartmouth scholar, Keith Carlson, a computer science Ph.D. candidate, and Daniel Rockmore, a professor of computer science and mathematics; and from Virginia, Michael Livermore, an associate law professor.