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Best Opinion Opening Ever?

By George Khoury, Esq. on September 25, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Recently, thanks to the wonder that is legal Twitter, a whopper of an opening to a federal district court's opinion was brought to our attention. Over and over again.

The epically amazing opening rather clearly alludes to the 90s Bill Murray classic, Groundhog Day, analogizing the current voting rights matter before the court to the basic premise of the slapstick romantic comedy.

What'd the Judge Write?

These are the actual first four sentences of the opinion:

"Here we are again. The clock hits 6:00 a.m. Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" starts playing. Denizens of and visitors to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania eagerly await the groundhog's prediction. And the state of Florida is alleged to violate federal law in its handling of elections."

If you don't know Groundhog Day, then you might be surprised to learn that the movie has nothing to do with voting rights. The case that prompted this creative introduction involved Florida voting districts not providing Spanish language sample ballots.

Notably, Judge Walker, the author of this homage to some of Mr. Murray's finest work, has dealt with other election law matters recently, which might explain why he might feel like he's having some déjà vu.

Although some might criticize the judge for trying to be witty, legal writing doesn't have to be boring. Generally, writing that is easy and enjoyable to read is generally more effective at communicating whatever message it's meant to deliver. And judicial opinions are no different, though they are definitely a step above cease and desists sent between fast food and beer companies.

As Justice Kagan, who garnered some writing notoriety for making Spider-Man references in an opinion, recently advised, legal writing shouldn't be dry. When it is appropriate, and if you know your audience (the judge) well enough, the court and your readers, will appreciate a good pop-culture reference or analogy.

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