Yesterday, Adam Liptak at the NY Times covered a Supreme Court trend: the Justices’ use of dictionary definitions in their opinions. He writes that:
In May alone, the justices cited dictionaries in eight cases to determine what legislators had meant when they used words like “prevent,” “delay” and “report.” Over the years, justices have looked up both perfectly ordinary words (“now,” “also,” “any,” “if”) and ones you might think they would know better than the next guy (“attorney,” “common law”).
I have also noticed this trend at both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals level, which is why, after reading this article a few years ago, I purchased a twelve and a half pound Webster’s Third New International Dictionary from Amazon, because it is the dictionary that the Court cites to most. It now sits on a reinforced book shelf and is used only when I have a brief raising a federal statutory issue with vague language—which happens more than you would think.
There was one line of Liptak’s article that made me stop reading:
“The justices have cited more than 120 dictionaries, which is suggestive of cherry picking.”
Now I wonder if I should be purchasing more dictionaries and the Amazon Prime option. If the Court can cherry pick so can I.
For more on cherry picking dictionary definitions check out Jonathan Adler’s post at Volokh.