The Chief as Social Leader: Emotional Language, Opinion Content, and Collegiality on the Supreme Court

Ryan C. Black, Ryan J. Owens, and Justin Wedeking

Chapter to be published in The Chief Justice: Appointment and Influence (David J. Danelski and Artemus Ward, eds.) by University of Michigan Press.


In this chapter, we question the Chief’s role as social leader by focusing on the language of the Court’s majority opinions. If the Chief is able to exert a collegial influence over his colleagues, majority opinions should look different when the Chief writes them versus when he does not. Additionally, his presence in the majority could have indirect effects over opinion content. We analyze every ma- jority opinion written between the Vinson Court in 1946 and the Roberts Court in 2012. Using textual analysis software programs, we examine “agreeable” and “disagreeable” language in the Court’s majority opinions. We compare opinions written by Chiefs against opinions written by other justices to analyze whether Chiefs employ more (less) agreeable (disagreeable) language in their opinions than their colleagues do. We also compare the language of majority opinions joined in (but not written by) the Chief against majority opinions in which the Chief does not join. Our results underscore collegiality problems for modern Chiefs.