The Green Bag, the unconventional law review, has just announced its "Exemplary Legal Writing" awards for 2009. Among the winners are three Supreme Court justices: Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and now-retired Justice David Souter.
Souter's award is perhaps the most notable due to the brevity of what he wrote: a two-sentence concurrence in a mostly overlooked ruling from April, United States v. Navajo Nation. The ruling was a defeat for the Navajos in a long-running dispute over royalties under a coal lease. It was a sequel to a 2003 ruling by the same name, which was also a loss for the tribe. Souter's simple and eloquent concurrence (joined by Justice John Paul Stevens,) went like this: "I am not through regretting that my position in [the first case] did not carry the day. But it did not, and I agree that the precedent of that case calls for the result reached here." To our ear, the rueful tone evokes Conway Twitty's lyric "I'm not through loving you."
Roberts won for his forceful anti-drunk-driving tract in his dissent from denial of review in Virginia v. Harris, and Ginsburg won for her majority opinion in United States v. Hayes, a statutory interpretation case heavy with references to syntax and grammar. Lower court judges recognized for their writing include the 9th Circuit's chief judges Alex Kozinski and the 7th Circuit's chief judge Frank Easterbrook.
In non-opinion categories, books that were recognized were Amy Bach for her "Ordinary Justice," Annette Gordon-Reed for "The Hemingses of Monticello," and David Post for "In Search for Jefferson's Moose." We interviewed Bach here last week.
In the news and editorial categories, Eugene Fidell, Dahlia Lithwick, Kermit Roosevelt, and Jeffrey Toobin were winners. The finalists were picked from among books and articles nominated by a board of advisers (disclosure: including the author of this blog post.) The winning entries will be published in full or in excerpts in the Green Bag's forthcoming legal almanac for 2010. Among other winners were Solicitor General Elena Kagan and law professors Lani Guinier, Pamela Karlan, Frederick Schauer, and G. Edward White.