“It was a judicial opinion. A judicial opinion to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”

As a lawyer, I can assure you that legal documents aren’t always gripping reading. A law school classmate once told me that three years of law school had destroyed his ability to read for pleasure.

But sometimes you’ll find gems, like the first couple of paragraphs in this passage from the highest court in the land, namely Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent from the denial of review of Pennsylvania v. Dunlap (PDF) yesterday:

“North Philly, May 4, 2001. Officer Sean Devlin, Narcotics Strike Force, was working the morning shift. Undercover surveillance. The neighborhood? Tough as a three­ dollar steak. Devlin knew. Five years on the beat, nine months with the Strike Force. He’d made fifteen, twenty drug busts in the neighborhood.

Devlin spotted him: a lone man on the corner. Another approached. Quick exchange of words. Cash handed over; small objects handed back. Each man then quickly on his own way. Devlin knew the guy wasn’t buying bus tokens. He radioed a description and Officer Stein picked up the buyer. Sure enough: three bags of crack in the guy’s pocket. Head downtown and book him. Just another day at the office.”

Regrettably, the rest of the opinion – which discusses a Fourth Amendment issue – isn’t quite as diverting.

It’s probably a mistake for judges to experiment with literary forms (I think it was George Rose Smith, formerly Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Arkansas for nearly four decades, who wrote an entire opinion in rhymed couplets), because it runs the risk of trivializing the law and making litigants feel that they are engaged in a frivolous procedure. But most of us who actually have to read this stuff will forgive the judge who, even for a moment, lightens our load.

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The Arkansas Project