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After the Supreme Court released its opinion in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission came the scholarly debate: Was it the lengthiest opinion in Court history? Chief Justice William Rehnquist said it ran 300 pages long. He was close. In fact, if you count its 19-page syllabus and all the dissents, it comes in at 298 pages. Court-watchers quickly started clogging the blogs and listservs with a quest for historical bragging rights. First up came the so-called Telephone Patent Case of 1888, which filled an entire volume of U.S. Reports. At 577 pages, that case was nearly twice as long as McConnell. Case closed? No, says Stephen Wermiel at American University Washington College of Law. Back then, the Supreme Court’s reporter of decisions included oral argument reports and other material. The ruling itself in the decision runs a mere 46 pages. Other contenders included the last landmark campaign finance case, Buckley v. Valeo (293 pages), the death penalty case Furman v. Georgia (232 pages), and the discredited pro-slavery Dred Scott ruling in Scott v. Sandford in 1857 (234 pages). At UCLA School of Law, Eugene Volokh did a computerized word count and found that even though it occupied fewer pages, Scott v. Sandford contained about 10,000 more words than the McConnell ruling. Why the anomaly? Today’s U.S. Reports uses a bigger typeface. Paul Finkelman of the University of Tulsa College of Law weighed in, suggesting that Scott v. Sandford deserves the crown. “Consider that Dred Scott was done without computers, typewriters or clerks to draft the opinions and is clearly the ‘longest’ opinion in terms of efforts of the judges,” he says. The McConnell ruling and other modern contenders should be credited for girth only with asterisks, Finkelman suggests, like Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961. The current Supreme Court’s term is longer than it was in the 19th century, he notes, and current justices have “all sorts of help.” — Tony Mauro

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