Vermont Bar Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2 - Page 33

William Brennan : Master of Arrangement
William Brennan ’ s opinions , while lacking the originality and verve of the Holmes and Jackson opinions , are nonetheless models of clarity and organization . If they do not sing , they certainly converse easily with modern readers , telling compelling stories as they go . Like Hugo Black ’ s opinions , Brennan ’ s opinions feature everyday language occasionally salted with a timely metaphor or a vivid turn of phrase .
The opening paragraph of Brennan ’ s majority opinion in Craig v . Boren , a genderdiscrimination case , captures the issue at hand in just two sentences . 24 The interaction of two sections of an Oklahoma statute , Okla . Stat ., tit . 37 , ss 241 and 245 ( 1958 and Supp 1976 ) prohibits the sale of ‘ nonintoxicating ’ 3.2 % beer to males under the age of 21 and to females under the age of 18 . The question to be decided is whether such a gender-based differential constitutes a denial to males 18-20 years of age of the equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment . 25 After establishing the standing of the petitioner , a licensed vendor of 3.2 % beer , Brennan set the stage for his analysis by emphasizing that “ classifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives .” 26 Under Reed v . Reed 27 and other cases , he noted , administrative ease and convenience are not “ sufficiently important objectives to justify gender-based classifications .” 28 “ We turn then ,” he continued , “ to the question whether , under Reed , the difference between males and females with respect to the purchase of 3.2 % beer warrants the differential in age drawn by the Oklahoma statute . We conclude that it does not .” 29
Explaining that conclusion , Brennan accepted the state ’ s objective of protecting the public health and safety , but not the statistics it cited to show that a gender classification regarding the purchase of 3.2 % beer served that goal . He observed : Suffice to say that the showing offered by the appellees does not satisfy us that sex represents a legitimate , accurate proxy for the regulation of drinking and driving . In fact , when it is further recognized that Oklahoma ’ s statute prohibits only the selling of 3.2 % beer to young males and not their drinking the beverage once acquired ( even after purchase by their 18-20-year-old female companions ), the relationship between gender and traffic safety becomes far too tenuous to satisfy Reed ’ s requirement that the gender-based difference be substantially related to achievement of the statutory objective . 30
Spurred by Brennan ’ s depiction of the folly of prohibiting 18-20-year-old males from buying beer when their sisters and girlfriends could buy it for them , the Court invalidated Oklahoma ’ s 3.2 % beer statute for “ invidiously discriminat [ ing ] against males 18-20 years of age .” 31
Justice Brennan could appeal to pathos as well as logos , especially in a dissent , and the following excerpt from his dissent in McCleskey v . Kemp reflects that ability . 32 In McCleskey , the majority affirmed the imposition of a death sentence on a black defendant who had killed a white victim in Georgia , despite the defendant ’ s showing of racial inequities in capital sentencing there . Brennan wrote : The Court ’ s decision today will not change what attorneys in Georgia tell other Warren McCleskeys about their chances of execution . Nothing will soften the harsh message they must convey , nor alter the prospect that race undoubtedly will continue to be a subject of discussion . McCleskey ’ s evidence will not have obtained judicial acceptance , but that will not affect what is said on death row . However many criticisms of today ’ s decision may be rendered , these painful conversations will serve as the most eloquent dissents of all . 33 Brennan uses only one rhetorical device in this passage , but it is an effective metaphor and its power is greater because it concludes the passage . Despite a lack of rhetorical wizardry , Brennan ’ s appeal to pathos succeeds because his words force the reader to confront racial disparity in the imposition of the death penalty .
Conclusion
Lawyers can become more persuasive by using rhetorical devices , especially arrangement and style . For a primer on style , see note 1 , below , and consult the opinions of Justices Holmes and Jackson . Still , style alone does not an effective writer make . Arrangement is also crucial , as the Black and Brennan opinions cited here illustrate . Few of us can muster the verve of Holmes or Jackson , but all of us can improve the arrangement of our writing . That effort might even inspire a flash of anaphora or antanaclasis now and then , much to the author ’ s benefit .. Careful arrangement ensures comprehension . Careful arrangement with a bit of style promotes persuasion . ____________________ Brian Porto , Esq . is a Professor of Law at Vermont Law School , where he teaches legal writing , sports law , and election law . ____________________
1
Brian Porto , Making It Sing : How Rhetorical Techniques Can Improve Your Writing , 40 , no . 2 Vermont Bar Journal p . 36 ( Summer 2014 ).
2
Aristotle , Rhetoric , Bk . 3 , ch . 13 , p . 220 .
3
Ethos is best achieved by providing trustworthy information to the reader or the audience . Although it is not a focus of this article , ethos , like logos and pathos , is as relevant to a successful argument today as it was in Aristotle ’ s day .
4
Edward P . J . Corbett , Classical Rhetoric for The Modern Student p . 31 ( 2 nd ed . 1971 ).
5
Michael H . Frost , Introduction to Classical Legal Rhetoric : A Lost Heritage p . 4 ( 2005 ).
6
Corbett , supra note 4 , at 461 .
7
Id .
8
Id . at 463 .
9
Id . at 464 .
10
Id . at 471 .
11
Id .
12
Id . at 464 .
13
Id . at 473 .
14
Id . at 479 .
15
Id .
16
Id . at 481 .
17
Id . at 482 .
18
Id .
19
332 U . S . 463 ( 1948 ).
20
Id . at 464 .
21
Id . at 465 .
22
372 U . S . 335 ( 1963 ).
23
Id . at 342 .
24
429 U . S . 190 ( 1976 ).
25
Id . at 191-192 .
26
Id . at 197 .
27
404 U . S . 71 ( 1971 ).
28
Craig v . Boren , 429 U . S . at 198 .
29
Id . at 199 .
30
Id . at 204 .
31
Id .
32
481 U . S . 279 ( 1987 ).
33
Id . at 344-345 .
Rhetoric Revisited
www . vtbar . org THE VERMONT BAR JOURNAL • SUMMER 2016 33
William Brennan’s opinions, while lacking the originality and verve of the Holmes and Jackson opinions, are nonetheless models of clarity and organization. If they do not sing, they certainly converse easily with modern readers, telling compelling stories as they go. Like Hugo Black’s opinions, Brennan’s opinions feature everyday language occasionally salted with a timely metaphor or a vivid turn of phrase. The opening paragraph of Brennan’s majority opinion in Craig v. Boren, a genderdiscrimination case, captures the issue at hand in just two sentences.24 The interaction of two sections of an Oklahoma statute, Okla. Stat., tit. 37, ss 241 and 245 (1958 and Supp 1976) prohibits the sale of ‘nonintoxicating’ 3.2% beer to males under HYHو H[[X[\[\HYHو N B]Y\[ۈHXYY\]\XH[\X\YY\[X[ۜ]]\˜H[X[X[\ N LYX\وYHقH\]X[X[ۈوH][[][ۈوH\Y[[Y[Y[ BY\\X\[H[[وH]][ۙ\HX[Y[܈و ˌHY\[[]HYH܈\[[\\B[\\^[]8'\YX][ۜH[\]\\H[\ܝ[ݙ\Y[[ؚX]\[]\HX[X[H[]YXY][Y[وHؚX]\˸'L[\YYYY [\\\BY YZ[\]]HX\H[۝[Y[B\H8'YXY[H[\ܝ[ؚX]\š\YH[\X\Y\YX][ۜ˸'L8'B\[8'HH۝[YY 8'H]Y\[ۈ]\[\YY HY\[B]Y[X[\[[X[\]\XH\\Hو ˌHY\\[BY\[X[[YH]ۈHHZXB]]KHۘYH]]\ 'LB^Z[[]ۘ\[ۋ[[X\YH]x&\ؚX]HوX[HXXX[[Y]K]H]\X]]Y]H[\\YX][ۈY\[H\\Hو ˌHY\\Y][ H؜\YYXH^H]H[ٙ\YHH\[Y\\]\ٞH\]^\\[HY][X]KX\]BH܈HY[][ۈو[[[][ˈ[X []\\\Xۚ^Y]ZXx&\]]HX]›ۛHH[[و ˌHY\[[›X[\[Z\[[H]\YHۘHX]Z\Y ][Y\\\BHZ\ N L ^YX\[[X[H\[[ۜKH[][ۜ\]Y[[\[YXY]HXY\\[[\]\ٞHYY8&\\]Z\[Y[]H[\X\YY\[HHX[X[H[]YXY][Y[وB]]ܞHؚX]K˝\ܙ‚\YH[[&\\X[ۈوHHوX][ N L ^YX\[X[\B^Z[Y\[Z\\\[\Y[[^H]܈[KH\[[Y]YZXx&\ ˌHY\]]H܂'[Y[\H\ܚ[Z[][HYZ[X[\ŒN LYX\وYK'LB\XH[[[\X[]˜\[\\XX[H[H\[ [H[^\H\\[[X\^H[\YX]X[]K̈[X\^KHXZܚ]HY\YYH[\][ۈوHX][[HۈHXY[[Y[YH]HX[H[[ܙXK\]HHY[[8&\[وXX[[\]Z]Y\[\][[[[\K[[ܛNH\8&\X\[ۈ^H[[H]]ܛ^\[[ܙXH[\\[X\^\X]Z\[\و^X][ۋ[[ٝ[H\Y\YH^H]\۝^K܈[\HX]XH[XYH[۝[YHBHXXو\\[ۋX\^x&\™]Y[H[]H؝Z[YYXX[X\[K]][YX]\ZYۈX]ˈ]\X[Hܚ]X\\و^x&\X\[ۂX^HH[\Y \HZ[[۝\][ۜ[\H\H[[]Y[\[و[ [[\\ۛHۙH]ܚX[]XB[\\YK]]\[YX]HY]\܈[]\\ܙX]\X]\H]ۘY\H\YK\]HHXق]ܚX[^\K[[&\\X[]XYYX]\H\ܙܘHBXY\ۙ۝XX[\\]H[H[\][ۈوHX][[Kۘ\[ۂ]Y\[XYH[ܙH\X\]HB\[]ܚX[]X\\XX[H\[[Y[[[K܈H[Y\ۈ[KYBH K[[ۜ[H[[ۜق\X\Y\[Xۋ[ [B[ۙH\[YX]Hܚ]\XZK\[[Y[\[ܝXX[ \HX˜[[[[[ۜ]Y\H[\]K]و\[]\\H\HوY\›܈Xۋ][و\[[\ݙHH\[[Y[و\ܚ][ˈ]YܝZY][[\HH\و[\ܘH܈[[X\\[[]XH]]ܸ&\˜[Y] \Y[\[[Y[[\\\Z[[ۋ\Y[\[[Y[]H]و[H[\\X\[ۋX[ܝ\K\Hٙ\܈و]]\[۝] \HHXX\Y[ܚ][ܝ][[X[ۈ]˂‚BX[ܝXZ[][Έ]ܚX[X\]Y\[[\ݙH[\ܚ][ ˈ \[۝\\[ ͈ [[Y\ M KHTSӕTTS8(SSQT M]ܚX]\]Y[X[H[[X\\و\[[Y[\\K]ܚXˈ  L ]\\XY]YHݚY[\ܝH[ܛX][ۈHXY\܈H]YY[K[Y]\H\و\\XK]ZH[]\\[][HX\ٝ[\[Y[^H\]\[\\x&\^KY\ ܘ] \X[]ܚX܈B[\Y[ H Y NMJKBZXY[  [X[ۈ\X[Y[]ܚXΈH\]YH  JKܘ] \HH ] K’Y Y ] ˂BY ] LY ] KLBY LY ] L’Y ] ˂MY ] KMBY MY ]  KM’Y ]  NY NB̈Kˈ NM KY ] BY ] K̈Kˈ H NMK’Y ]  HKˈ NL NM͊KBY ] NLKLNLY ] NM˂ Kˈ H NMJKܘZYܙ[ HKˈ] NN BY ] NNKY ] BY ̂ HKˈ H NN K’Y ] L K‚‚