Supreme Court rhetoric : explorations in the culture of argument and the language of the law

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Beverly C. Wall (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Walter H. Beale

Abstract: Perhaps nowhere in American life is the intersection of language, argumentation, and politics more intense, complex, and dynamic than in the written opinions issued by the United States Supreme Court. This study analyzes a small set of Supreme Court opinions in order to explore, from a rhetorical perspective, the genre of the Supreme Court opinion and the culture of argument as it is realized or symbolized in the texts. The analysis is grounded in the theoretical model of discourse developed by Walter H. Beale, as well as drawing eclectically on a variety of insights from figures such as Aristotle, Kenneth Burke, Michael Oakeshott, Richard M. Weaver, and James Boyd White. In Part One, Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) and McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) are examined as early examples of multiple-text and single-text opinions, respectively. The two cases suggest the range of generic possibilities in the writing of Supreme Court opinions. They also reveal the parameters of a rhetorical problem that has persisted throughout the Court's history: the conflict between the functions of the texts as deliberative forums and governmental instruments, between the individual roles of justices and their collective institutional identity, and between the justices' multiple voices and the Court's single judicial voice in a culture of argument.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 1992
Beale, Walter H. $x Knowledge $x Discourse analysis
United States. $b Supreme Court
Discourse analysis $z United States
Legal opinions $z United States

Email this document to