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Authors

Michael Wells

Document Type

Article

Abstract

Judicial opinions receive a lot of attention from American legal scholars. Nearly all the commentary, however, takes for granted that an opinion should be a discursive narrative, consisting of a candid and reasoned explanation of the court's holding. To American lawyers, judges, and mainstream scholars, the judicial opinion is a valuable legal institution in its own right. American jurists think that, independent of the result in the case, the opinion should be evaluated on its own terms, for it is more than a vehicle for expressing a ruling on the discrete dispute before the court. An opinion is an instrument for achieving systemic goals: providing guidance to lawyers and lower courts, persuading readers of the rightness of the decision, constraining arbitrary action on the part of judges, and legitimating their efforts. Americans think that a judge's failure to pursue or achieve these goals is ground for serious criticism of the judge's work, whatever the substantive merit of the court's rulings.

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