Failed Revolutions: Social Reform and the Limits of Legal Imagination

By Richard Delgado; Jean Stefancic | Go to book overview

9
Scorn and Imposition--How We Use Language, Consciously or Unconsciously, to Derail Reform

The language we use in thinking and talking about something often has real-world consequences. It marshals opinion, constructs images, contributes to a culture in which certain ideas and persons have high prestige and validity and others have less. The terms and images we use also reflect our attitudes and sense of things--they provide a mirror into our collective consciousness.

This final chapter analyzes the rhetoric courts and other opinionmakers deploy with respect to reform movements. We focus on two devices that we deploy in connection with movements that do not meet our approval for some reason. We employ the first, scorn, in connection with movements that are in their middle stages--that are beginning to gather force. Later, when the movements become genuinely threatening, we deploy the second, imposition.


Scorn

Every year, the Supreme Court issues between one and two hundred written opinions. The more than five hundred volumes of Supreme Court Reports occupy over one hundred feet of shelf space in a library. This body of work can be regarded as a corpus, analyzed for style, argument, use of rhetorical strategies. Such an analysis may reward us with insights into the way the Court sees itself as an institution, into the way it thinks of itself and of law.

It is said that if you want to know what a person is like, all you need to know is whom he adores, admires, and tries to emulate. We believe that the opposite is also true--that to understand how a person's mind works, it is helpful to know whom he scorns, laughs at, regards as low and outside his circle of concern. First, we describe various types of scathing

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