I take the key passage in Professor Farnsworth's reply to be the following: "Maybe he thinks these passages are insignificant; it's just stuff that judges are required to say by custom, but that has nothing to do with their actual reasons for decision. There may be something to that, but we think the materials that judges use (and feel obliged to use) to build their arguments can have some effect on what they actually do decide, so we aren't ready to treat these sorts of debates as though they don't exist" (emphasis added). I take it that by "some effect" he means a substantial effect, as otherwise the semantic arguments would not be interesting. My question is: what is the evidence that arguments about dictionary meanings and other semantic issues have a substantial effect on case outcomes?
The Supreme Court is a political court operating in a goldfish bowl; why should we expect candor in its opinions, any more than we expect candor in a Presidential address? There used to be candid Justices--Holmes and Jackson spring to mind--but who are the candid Justices today? And how often does one find semantic nitpicking in outstanding lower-court judges like Hand and Friendly?