The Centers for Disease Control's revelation that burgers today are three times bigger and meals four times bigger than they were in the 1950s comes as something of a relief. Our meals are four times bigger, but we're not! It looks like we're only about 20% bigger.* Clearly someone is watching out for us. As a lawyer I was naturally led to wonder whether judicial opinions have also become supersized. And sure enough, someone's done a study on it, revealing that the answer is a big fat yes. From "An Empirical Analysis of the Length of U.S. Supreme Court Decisions:"
Of particular note in the last one hundred or so years are two substantial and sudden changes in the median length. First, we observe a sharp decrease occurring over a three-year period starting in 1949, when the median length dropped from 3,064 words in 1948 to 2,129 words in 1951 -- a 30% decline. Indeed, the average size of majority opinions did not return to the 1948 level until nearly three decades later, in 1972. The second dramatic change, this one a substantial increase, occurred shortly after the start of the Burger Court. In 1969, the median length was 2,530 words. By 1974, just five years later, it had jumped by more than 80% to 4,656 words. Indeed, the change in opinion length over these few years is one of the starkest transitions in the entire data series and likely is what sparked interest and commentary on the increasing length of the Court's opinions.
*I am actually about 105% bigger than my peak weight in the 1950s, but that's a different story.