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Justice Scalia: Be Likeable and Avoid Contractions

This is the second part of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's three-part interview with NPR.

Justice Antonin Scalia is often referred to as the most readable as well as the most incendiary writer on the Supreme Court. His language, especially in dissent, is vivid, quotable and unsparing. But it is also concise, to the point and grammatically unassailable.

His new book, written with lexicographer Brian Garner, is called Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. In this short volume, Scalia seeks to instruct lawyers on how to make arguments in legal briefs and oral presentations. Some lessons are about more than writing.

"Some people are inherently likeable. If you're not — work on it. It may even improve your social life," the book advises.

Most non-lawyers focus only on results, not on how a judge reasons, Scalia says. He argues that reasoning is based on presentation, at least in part.

Indeed, Scalia and Garner had their own disagreements: not on substance but on writing style.

Among other matters, the pair disagreed about the use of contractions in legal writing. Garner favors them to make the text more conversational. Scalia says using contractions comes off as an attempt to be "buddy-buddy" with the judge.

Constructing a brief as if it is a letter to the editor of USA Today will not win over many judges, he says.

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Nina Totenberg
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.