Blawgletter sometimes rues the length of court opinions. We indeed find the feeling more common as we progress a few months into our second half century. And yet our patience has lately improved.
Judge Richard Posner helped today by explaining, in an ironically long opinion for him, why judicial sound bites can make bad law. He cited a phrase, "literally false", which a plaintiff brandished as it might a knife that cut its opponents' defense to a Lanham Act claim to ribbons:
This is an unfortunately common example of a litigant misled by general language in judicial opinions. Opinions would be even longer than they are if judges couldn't use short phrases to denote what may be complex legal doctrines. When those phrases are taken to be exhaustive statements of entire doctrines with all the necessary qualifications, the result is likely to be a misapprehension of the law. William Blake declared that "to Generalize is to be an Idiot. To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit." That is a bit extreme; but uncritical generalization is a path to error. One form of uncritical generalization, ironically in view of Schering's invocation of the doctrine of "literal falsity," is reading general language literally.
Schering-Plough Healthcare Products, Inc. v. Schwarz Pharma, Inc., No. 09-1438, slip op. at 20 (7th Cir. Oct. 29, 2009).