Carnegie Mellon University

Incivility in Written Discourse: The U.S Supreme Court and Abortion

Author: Ronald Placone

Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2009

This dissertation is a rhetorical analysis of civility in United States Supreme Court rulings on abortion rights. The study focuses on 32 Supreme Court Abortion cases from 1970-2007. This corpus represents all of the major cases on the right to an abortion or potential infringements on that right. Drawing on civility theories from classical rhetoricianst contemporary scholars and philosophers such as LockeMill, and Rawls, all 115 written opinions from these cases are analyzed for the occurrences of civil communications and instances of incivility. The primary research question explores whether or not the High Court has become less civil in its written opinions on abortion.

To answer the question, the cases are divided into two groups: cases from 1970-1986 and cases from 1987-2007. After a detailed examination of the texts through the lens of the civility dimensions of respect, restraint and adherence to norms, the findings from the close reading are supplemented with multivariate and key word analyses. The findings from the close reading, multivariate analysis, and key word analysis consistently show that the Supreme Court has become less civil over time in its written opinions on abortion. The dissertation concludes with the implications of the legal rhetoric, and the Supreme Court.