Get access

The Impact of Judicial Opinion Language on the Transmission of Federal Circuit Court Precedents


  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2007 annual meeting of the Southern Political Science Association in New Orleans, LA, where David Klein and Pamela Corley provided valuable feedback and advice. The author would like to thank members of the political science department at Fordham University for their helpful comments at a brown bag presentation. Special thanks are also extended to Carroll Seron, Danielle McClellan, and the anonymous reviewers at the Law & Society Review for their careful attention to the manuscript.

Please address correspondence to Robert J. Hume, Department of Political Science, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458; e-mail:


Why do some federal circuit court precedents transmit across circuits when others do not? Does judicial opinion language influence which cases are more likely to transmit? Previous research on the transmission of precedents has focused primarily on attributes of the circuits or judges who wrote the decisions, without considering whether opinion language also influences citations. This study hypothesizes that precedents are more likely to transmit to other circuits when judges communicate their importance using features of opinion language such as the legal grounding, the amount of supporting evidence, and the decision to file a per curiam opinion. The results indicate that opinion language does influence the transmission of precedents, which suggests that judges who care about policy and are willing to take affirmative steps to encourage citations can use opinion language to enhance their impact.

Get access to the full text of this article