1st Edition

Fiction and the Languages of Law Understanding Contemporary Legal Discourse

By Karen Petroski Copyright 2019
    240 Pages
    by Routledge

    240 Pages
    by Routledge

    Contemporary legal reasoning has more in common with fictional discourse than we tend to realize. Through an examination of the U.S. Supreme Court’s written output during a recent landmark term, this book exposes many of the parallels between these two special kinds of language use. Focusing on linguistic and rhetorical patterns in the dozens of reasoned opinions issued by the Court between October 2014 and June 2015, the book takes nonlawyer readers on a lively tour of contemporary American legal reasoning and acquaints legal readers with some surprising features of their own thinking and writing habits. It analyzes cases addressing a huge variety of issues, ranging from the rights of drivers stopped by the police to the decision-making processes of the Environmental Protection Agency—as well as the term’s best-known case, which recognized a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex as well as different-sex couples. Fiction and the Languages of Law reframes a number of long-running legal debates, identifies other related paradoxes within legal discourse, and traces them all to common sources: judges’ and lawyers’ habit of alternating unselfconsciously between two different attitudes toward the language they use, and a set of professional biases that tends to prevent scrutiny of that habit.

    Chapter 1: Three Ways of Reading a Term

    Chapter 2: Fear of Fiction

    Chapter 3: Real People, Fictional Characters, Legal Phantoms

    Chapter 4: Big Personalities

    Chapter 5: Virtual Realities

    Chapter 6: Reading the Layers of Law


    Dr Karen Petroski, St Louis University School of Law, USA, has been teaching law since 2008 and is trained in both literary analysis and law. She has published several articles and book chapters on legal fictions and the relationship between fictional and legal discourse, including chapters in Legal Fictions in Theory and Practice (ed. Maksymilian Del Mar & William Twining, Springer, 2015) and The Nature of Legal Interpretation: What Jurists Can Learn About Legal Interpretation from Linguistics and Philosophy (ed. Brian Slocum, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2017).