25 Ways to Write Like Chief Justice Roberts

Written by Ross Guberman on June 27, 2020

briefcatch-logo-bg-trans

Who doesn’t need some inspiration these days?

On the writing front, consider Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion in Buck v. Davis. Here are 25 ways to write like him. Or do so automatically.

A Sense of Time

1.   Replace full dates with phrases.

  • Two months later, Buck returned to federal court . . .
  • Within days, the Texas Attorney General, John Cornyn, issued . . .
  • By the close of 2002, the Attorney General had confessed error . . .
  • In 2006, a Federal District Court relied on that failure . . .

Spice of Life

2.   Include the occasional metaphor or other figure of speech.

  • [T]he impact of that evidence cannot be measured simply by how much air time it received at trial or how many pages it occupies in the record. Some toxins can be deadly in small doses.

3.   Include some very short sentences.

  • In June 2000, the Court did so.
  • Not, however, in Buck’s.
  • But the converse is not true.
  • These were remarkable steps.
  • But one thing would never change: the color of Buck’s skin.
  • And it was potent evidence.

4.   Add interest through the occasional dash, colon, question mark, or semicolon.

  • The statute sets forth a two-step process: an initial determination whether a claim is reasonably debatable, and then—if it is—an appeal in the normal course.
  • And for good reason: At the time Buck filed his § 2254 petition . . .  
  • Would he do so again?
  • The question for the Court of Appeals was not whether Buck had shown that his case is extraordinary; it was whether jurists of reason could debate that issue.

5.   Add interesting and varied transitions.

  • It follows that the Fifth Circuit erred in denying Buck . . .
  • But then again, these were—as the State itself put it at oral argument here—“extraordinary” cases.
  • Dr. Quijano’s report said, in effect, that the color of Buck’s skin made him more deserving of execution.
  • The Fifth Circuit, for its part, failed even to mention . . .
  • To be sure, the State has repeatedly . . .
  • True, the jury was asked to decide two issues . . .
  • Indeed, in one recent case . . .  
  • Of course, when a court of appeals properly applies . . .
  • To that end, the court observed that a change in decisional law . . .

6.   Use parallelism and repetition for effect.

  • Our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are.
  • Dr. Quijano’s opinion coincided precisely with a particularly noxious strain of racial prejudice, which itself coincided precisely with the central question at sentencing.

Wording Wonders

7.   Don’t fear “that.”

  • The first, Dr. Patrick Lawrence, observed that Buck had . . .
  • From this he concluded that Buck “did not present any problems in the prison setting.”
  • We have held that a litigant seeking . . .
  • Buck contends that his attorney’s introduction . . .

8.   Change “regarding” and “with respect to” to “on” or “about.”

  • Buck’s attorney called a psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, to offer his opinion on that issue.
  • [T]he prosecution’s questions about race and violence on cross‑examination . . .
  • A defense lawyer navigating a criminal proceeding faces any number of choices about how best to make a client’s case.

9.   Change “further” to “also.”

  • Buck also argued that the State’s decision to treat him differently from the other defendants . . .
  • The court also dismissed the contention that the nature of Dr. Quijano’s testimony argued for reopening the case.

10. Change “despite the fact that” to “although.”

  • Although we may reach the issue in our discretion . . .
  • Although the State attempts to justify its decision to treat Buck differently from . . .

11. Change “Moreover” and “Additionally” at the beginning of a sentence to “And.” 

  • And the court had already concluded that . . .
  • And in this case, the State’s interest in finality deserves little weight.

12. Change “due to the fact that” to “because.” 

  • Because Buck had . . .
  • Because Buck’s petition . . .

13. Change “However” at the beginning of a sentence to “But” or “Yet.” 

  • But he also stated that one of the factors . . .
  • But the question for the Fifth Circuit was not whether . . .  
  • But our holding on prejudice makes clear that . . .

14. Change “is unable to” or “lacks the capacity to” to “cannot.”

  • Buck cannot obtain relief unless he is entitled to the benefit of this rule . . .

15. Change “in the event [that]” to “if.”

  • If the jury did not impose a death sentence . . .
  • [B]oth parties litigated this matter on the assumption that Martinez and Trevino would apply if Buck reopened his case.

16. Change “where” for conditions to “if” or “when.”

  • We held that when a state formally limits the adjudication of claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel to collateral review . . .  
  • When a defendant’s own lawyer puts in the offending evidence . . .

17. Change “similar to” to “like.” 

  • Like Dr. Lawrence, Dr. Quijano thought it significant that . . .
  • [H]is case would be treated like Saldano’s . . .

18. Change “is required to” to “had to” or “must.”

  • Given that the jury had to make a finding of future dangerousness before . . .
  • To satisfy Strickland, a litigant must also demonstrate prejudice.

19. Change “upon” to “on.”

  • Based on these considerations, Dr. Lawrence determined that . . .
  • In 2006, a Federal District Court relied on that failure . . .

20. Change “demonstrates” to “shows.”

  • A defendant who claims to have been denied effective assistance must show both that counsel . . .
  • [T]he prisoner has failed to show that his claim is meritorious.

21. Change “such” to “that.”

  • Texas confessed error on that ground, and this Court vacated the judgment below.

22. Change “subsequently” to “later” or “then.”

  • . . . and then had confessed error in the other cases . . .
  • His case then entered a labyrinth of state and federal collateral review . . .
  • An officer would later testify that Buck was laughing at the scene.

23. Change “in order to” to “to.” 

  • To satisfy Strickland . . .

24. Change “pursuant to” to “under.”

  • The court noted that under Strickland, Buck . . .
  • Under state law, the jury could impose a death sentence only if . . .

25. Change “whether or not” to “whether.”

  • [T]he only question is whether the applicant has shown that . . .
  • In determining whether Buck was likely to pose a danger in the future . . .

Of course, you could also have these edits and thousands more made automatically.

Posted in
Ross Guberman

Ross Guberman

Ross Guberman is the president of Legal Writing Pro LLC and the founder of BriefCatch LLC. From Alaska and Hawaii to Paris and Hong Kong, Ross has conducted thousands of workshops on three continents for prominent law firms, judges, agencies, corporations, and associations. His workshops are among the highest rated in the world of professional legal education.

Leave a Comment