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Over the last 50 years, there have been efforts on behalf of the U.S. government to simplify legal documents for society at large. How effective have these efforts been? Here we analyzed every law passed by Congress between the years 1951 to 2022 along with a large sample of baseline texts published over roughly the same time period and found that laws remain laden with features associated with processing difficulty relative to other genres, and that the prevalence of most of these features has not meaningfully declined. We found similar results when comparing laws with academic texts. These findings suggest top-down efforts to simplify legal texts have thus far remained largely ineffectual, despite the apparent tractability of these changes, raising and informing questions of law and public policy.

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This page is a summary of: So much for plain language: An analysis of the accessibility of U.S. federal laws over time., Journal of Experimental Psychology General, May 2024, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/xge0001572.
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