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Words Are Enough: The Troublesome Use of Photographs, Maps, and Other Images in Supreme Court Opinions

Hampton Dellinger
Harvard Law Review
Vol. 110, No. 8 (Jun., 1997), pp. 1704-1753
DOI: 10.2307/1342042
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1342042
Page Count: 50
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Words Are Enough: The Troublesome Use of Photographs, Maps, and Other Images in Supreme Court Opinions
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Abstract

In this Commentary, Mr. Dellinger defines and analyzes a heretofore unrecognized class of United States Supreme Court decisions: those in which a photograph, map, replica, or reproduction is attached to a Justice's opinion. Such attachments, all relying on visual attributes that uniquely differentiate them from words, have appeared in a number of seminal decisions. Mr. Dellinger argues that the use of visual attachments poses special dangers. Because their neutrality and accuracy are so readily assumed, such attachments often elude the skepticism with which the written portions of Court opinions are generally reviewed. Yet their inherent distortions and vulnerability to manipulation make the Justices' reliance on them problematic. Mr. Dellinger reviews the past use of attachments and finds their use to have been generally unnecessary and unhelpful. He then argues that the Court should forgo any future reliance on visual attachments. In the alternative, the Justices, the companies that reproduce Court opinions, and readers should improve significantly the ways in which they respectively use, publish, and review these attachments.

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