How the supreme court alters opinion language to evade congressional review

Ryan J. Owens, Justin Wedeking, Patrick C. Wohlfarth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


We argue that actors can attempt to shield their policy choices from unfavorable review by crafting them in a manner that will increase the costs necessary for supervisory institutions to review them. We apply this theory to the US Supreme Court and demonstrate how justices strategically obfuscate the language of majority opinions in the attempt to circumvent unfavorable review from a politically hostile Congress. The results suggest that Supreme Court justices can and do alter the language of their opinions to raise the costs of legislative review and thereby protect their decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-59
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Law and Courts
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Frances Lee, Tony Madonna, Georg Vanberg, the JLC editor David Klein, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. We also thank Lori Hausegger and Larry Baum for generously sharing their data on Supreme Court invitations of congressional overrides. Wohlfarth appreciates research support from the Center for Empirical Research in the Law at Washington University in St. Louis and the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2013 by the Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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