Benjamin G. Engst, David Grundmans, Thomas Gschwend
Give them the word, they sharpen the sword - How high courts use language to exert political and societal power

15th General Conference of the ECPR, (virtual conference), August 30th to September 03rd, 2021

How do courts manage the transparency surrounding decisions through crafting opinions and press releases? To achieve political compliance with decisions justices need to activate public support. In order to do so, the transparency surrounding decisions is decisive. The more transparent the environment, the more likely the public becomes aware of judicial decisions and potential political threats towards the decisions. While most research regards transparency as a factor either present or absent, we argue that justices can manage the transparency surrounding their decisions through the way they write opinions and press-releases. To assess the argument we analyze the readability of Senate decisions and press releases published by the German Federal Constitutional Court. The findings suggests that the less readable a judicial opinion, the more likely it is supplemented by a press release. Moreover, the easier to read press releases attract more newspaper coverage of opinions than less readable press releases. These findings have major implications for our understanding of transparency surrounding judicial decision-making. Further research is well advised to account for linguistic features when assessing the capabilities of justices to mobilize the public through creating transparency.