In an American case in 1937, Justice Clarkson said this before delivering his dissent:

In those after years when this case, elevated to high authority by the cold finality of the printed page, is quoted with the customary ‘It has been said’ perchance another court will say, ‘Mayhaps the potter’s hand trembled at the wheel.’ Possibly when that moment comes these words may give the court a chance to say, ‘Yea, and a workman standing hard by saw the vase as it was cracked.’

Is cold here related to Definition 2? I'm guessing that Justice Clarkson's bemoaning that his dissent has been relegated to the printed page only, and can't change anything at that instant?

Source: P96, How the Law Works, Gary Slapper

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    Yes, it's the "unemotional" sense of "cold". But I'm not sure your guess is right. His dissent has not yet been printed, that's in the future ("after years"). It does sound somewhat defeatist, though. He's anticipating a cowardly judgement against his side, and saying that in the future, when a dispassionate observer reads the court proceedings, they may note and understand the arguments he's about to make (even if it they fall on deaf ears at the time). – Rupe Jul 7 '14 at 10:28
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    @Rupe: In the American court system, when you have a panel of judges making a decision, a judge on the losing side writes the dissent and it gets released at the same time as the decision does. He's not anticipating a judgment against his side; he knows the judgment is against his side because it has already happened. – Peter Shor Jul 7 '14 at 11:32
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    @Peter Shor. Ah, thanks, didn't realise that. So he's not anticipating a cowardly decision, it's already happened. I do still think the that he's not so much "bemoaning the fact that he can't change things" as claiming that people in the future (in the "cold light of day") will appreciate his argument better than the court did. – Rupe Jul 7 '14 at 11:37
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    @Rupe: I completely agree. – Peter Shor Jul 7 '14 at 11:37
  • Justice Clarkson certainly uses some extremely odd turns of phrase. I've never encountered mayhaps, and looking at the NGrams usage chart it looks more like a recent conflation with perhaps rather than a version that was actually used back in his day. – FumbleFingers Jul 7 '14 at 12:10

In a legal system that prizes the principle of stare decisis—the upholding of prior judicial opinions if doing so is possible without offending fundamental notions of justice—the crucial words "cold finality" refer to the authoritative force that such judgments acquire when they are issued and upheld on appeal.

Supposing that the limits of appeal in Oliver v. City of Raleigh (the case whose majority opinion North Carolina state Supreme Court Justice Heriot Clarkson was dissenting from) had been reached, the majority opinion became part of the established law of North Carolina—as impervious to change (owing to the force of judicial precedent) as the cold, marble columns in a courthouse's architectural façade.

The point of Clarkson's dissent is threefold: to explode any notion that the court was unanimous in its reasoning and conclusions; to provide a line of analysis that some future court (he hopes) may find so persuasive that it concludes that the majority opinion was simply wrong; and to influence the outcomes of similar cases not governed by North Carolina precedent. In the United States' form of federalism, state courts may (and often do) consider the rulings and opinions of courts in other states if those decisions are relevant to the case at hand, and if their state doesn't already have a controlling precedent of its own. Versions of Clarkson's three motives underlie virtually all dissents in U.S. state and federal district courts.

Just for fun, I ran a Google Books search for "cold finality of" to see what things are most often introduced with that phrase in published works of the past. The three most common are "the cold finality of print/type/the printed page"; "the cold finality of his/her voice/tone"; and "the cold finality of death/the tomb."

  • +1. Thank you effusively for your detail! Are you adept at law? I'll cherish your use of 'explode'. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Oct 26 '14 at 10:17

In this context 'cold finality' means something like 'emotionless conclusiveness'.

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