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Article

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Chiarella v. United States: A Study in Legal Style, 58 Texas Law Review 1291 (1980)

Abstract

When the law is against you, lawyers learn, you argue the facts; when the facts are against you, you argue the law. When each party has an arguable case, in other words, what the facts are and what the law is are interdependent questions.

Linking the facts presented to the court to past resolutions of similar disputes, a successful judicial opinion constructs a rationale that differentiates the particular exercise of judicial authority from different results reached in arguably similar cases and from the arbitrary application of superior power. Legal distinctions attempted in the opinion in order to differentiate its holding from cases relied on in the losing argument are often denominated, by the losing party, distinctions of style rather than substance. This characterization is not surprising, since distinctions of style are differences produced by subtle variations in the construction of essentially similar objects—variations that define the work of particular masters of a given craft. The use of the word style by the losing party as an antonym for substance, however, represents a charge that the words used by the court do not adequately distinguish either the facts or the law relied upon by that party. Such a charge can be demonstrated conclusively, in the sense that lawyers as well as litigants must accept it as valid, only when distinctions used in the opinion involve the court in logical inconsistencies. So long as the court's reasoning is consistent, in other words, the relevant question can be only whether the particular proposition on which the judge relies to justify the distinction is, in the circumstances, a persuasive one.

Date of Authorship for this Version

1980

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