Obscenities in Court Opinions

When a case contains obscene language, should that language be included in the opinion of the court? Zoe Tillman’s article, “In Quoting Profanity, Some Judges Give a F#%&. Others Don’t,” provides an overview of recent and current practice via interviews with federal court judges and attorneys.

There are three common techniques judges use to write around profanity.  The first is to replace a few choice letters with asterisks or dashes: “f***” or f—,” for instance. The second is to use a substitute, such as “[expletive].” The third is to paraphrase.

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Tillman notes that there are no official rules or guidelines for judges on whether to include obscene language in opinions. Most of the judges interviewed said they include obscene language if they think it is germane to the case.

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