Ellipsis: . . . or * * *?

The normal way to indicate omitted text is using three dots (“. . .”). But sometimes, especially in some documents filed with the Supreme Court, I see “* * *” used instead. Any sense of why this is so, and which tends to be preferred, and by whom? Is there some difference in meaning that I’m missing? The Supreme Court’s own opinions generally (or perhaps even always, or almost always) use the “. . .” ellipsis marker rather than the “* * *” marker.

Note: There are various guidelines about how to indicate omitted paragraphs, omitted text at the start or end of sentences, and so on; I’m not discussing that here. Likewise, I’m not discussing the centered row of three asterisks used as a delimiter between parts of a document, especially before the conclusion of the document.

UPDATE: Various commenters, as well as my Mayer Brown LLP colleague Charles Rothfeld, make things clear for me: This is the practice of the Solicitor General’s office, which was then retained by many of its alumni, and emulated by others (as the styles of highly regarded organizations often are).

Here is also a suggestion, based on a suggestion offered to me by Charles Rothfeld: If either a court or a prominent repeat litigant before the court — the Solicitor General’s office — routinely uses “* * *,” it’s good to use that. But if the usage is uncommon before a particular court, it’s better to stick with the more common “. . .,” since the asterisks might seem confusing, distracting, or pretentious. As usual, let Horace be your guide.

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