Poster Paper: Legal Language: Argumentation and Success in State Attorney General Environmental Actions

Friday, March 9, 2018
Burkle Lobby, First Floor (Burkle Family Building at Claremont Graduate University)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sara Turner, Pardee RAND Graduate School

Conflict over environmental regulation in the United States is often mediated through the justice system, where lawyers representing state, federal, and civil society interests use logical and rhetorical argumentation to attempt to influence the implementation and enforcement of of environmental policy. Using a database of 70 environmental law cases spanning the years 2004 to 2017, I assess language use in these cases and their relationship to court success. Using several well-known and validated techniques of text analysis including keyness testing, collocate identification, and stance analysis, I find that not only can legal petitions and judgments be distinguished from corpora of standard English, but that successful and unsuccessful cases demonstrate distinctive stylistic and topical characteristics. Results have implications for understanding evolving narratives and expectations regarding environmental policy in the U.S. and contribute to understanding the role of the courts in regulatory compliance and enforcement.