Online Feature

Elements of Judicial Style: A Quantitative Guide to Neil Gorsuch’s Opinion Writing

Nina Varsava

Judicial style and rhetoric are objects of perennial and often intense concern. Innumerable books, scholarly and popular articles, and blog posts are devoted to the topic. Current discussions of judicial writing often feature Neil Gorsuch’s opinions. Despite the fervor around Gorsuch’s style and rhetoric, there have been no attempts to systematically quantify his stylistic proclivities. This Article presents results from a quantitative study of almost all published majority opinions that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued during Gorsuch’s tenure there. Through analyses of extensive stylistic data, I illuminate Gorsuch’s stylistic fingerprint, revealing, in quantitative terms, how Gorsuch has achieved the stylistic effect that has impressed many observers. Moreover, I analyze Gorsuch’s stylistic drift over the past decade, revealing trends that might give us a sense of what to expect from the Justice’s writing going forward. I find that Gorsuch’s writing style is remarkably informal and unconventional compared to his Tenth Circuit peers. Moreover, Gorsuch’s opinions have a lot in common with short stories. His opinions are often suspenseful, withholding the legal conclusion until the end. He also employs a broad vocabulary and uses the passive voice sparingly. Regardless of the merit of Gorsuch’s writing style, it has captivated many readers, among both the public and the legal community. This Article pinpoints, in kind and degree, some of the properties that make Gorsuch’s writing stand out—properties that have helped form his reputation as a jurist.