Monday, January 02, 2006

Vacation Reading

Not all my holiday goodies were under my tree or in my stocking this year; some came from the website of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, an institutional site which actually has a "What's Hot" sidebar.

The Kitzmiller v. Dover case has ended, and the Opinion of Judge John E. Jones, who ruled against the advocates of Intelligent Design, has been released online. I am accustomed to reading documents from legal cases, but I thought that Judge Jones opinion was particularly engaging in its prose style and comprehensible to nonspecialists.

Now that judicial opinions are often posted on the Web and are thus accessible to members of the general public, are they being written to appeal to audiences beyond constitutional scholars or reporters who specialize in judicial matters?

The 9-11 Report may have chosen its gripping opening in "We Have Some Planes" because they knew that Americans would be downloading it from the Web. Certainly the Challenger Report is relatively dry plain text in comparison to the lavishly illustrated PDF's with soul-searching prose in the later Columbia Report.

So many U.S. reports and court decisions are now so readable, that I suspect that this is one way that digital rhetoric serves the larger public sphere of discourse. I remember reading the Iran-Contra Report on the beach during a college summer vacation. It was interesting reading to me in those days, but today the report seems relatively uninspired and bureaucratic. I suspect that now if a similar document were to be published online rather than in traditional print, it would be written with considerably more panache.

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