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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Legal Catch Phrases

Over here is a fairly extensive list of TV characters and their various catchphrases.  It’s got everything from “De Plane, De Plane” (Tattoo, Fantasy Island), “Is that your final answer?” (Regis Philbin, Who Wants to be a Millionaire) to “Watcha talking about, Willis?” (Arnold Drummond, Different Strokes).  (True, some of these TV character catch phrases were uttered by politicians, who are only characters in a nominal sense.  Seems a bit odd, but I suppose these phrases were uttered during televised debates). 

In any event, wondering about legal catch phrases that seem almost sit-com worthy.  My first thought was Justice Potter Stewart’s tried-and-true remark about obscenity (“I know it when I see it.”)  I’m sure there are many others.  Any nominations?

Posted by Miriam Cherry on November 28, 2006 at 12:25 AM in Culture | Permalink


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in a legal document when i write test in a bracket []
what does that do?
does it make it invisible?
not admit-able as evidence?

cheers hutch

dave hutchings

Posted by: dave hutchings | Jan 9, 2009 5:11:03 PM

"The power to tax involves the power to destroy." Justice Marshall, McCulloch v. Maryland.

And if that's too high-brow, how 'bout: "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit." Johnnie Cochran, OJ trial.

Posted by: eweeks | Nov 30, 2006 9:56:53 AM

Brendan Sullivan at the Iran-Contra Hearings: "I'm not a potted plant. I'm here as a lawyer."

Posted by: pcharles | Nov 29, 2006 3:16:04 PM

That stupid reference to the "thicket" of redistricting. Every election law decision and law review has to contain the word "thicket," and an obligatory passage stating that at one point the Supreme Court said that courts shouldn't venture into the thicket, but sometime afterward, they did.

"The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience."

"It is a constitution we are expounding" (catch phrase coined by John Marshall and abused by justices in this century and last to declare that their interpretation of the constitution is self-evident)

Posted by: cynic | Nov 29, 2006 8:36:00 AM

Although it no longer has much traction, my favorite catch phrase is "[t]hree generations of imbeciles are enough." After three generations surely sterilization by cutting Fallopian tubes is appropriate.

But seriously, my understanding is that Carrie's mother Emma had been committed simply because she was sexually promiscuous, Carrie was committed when, after being raped, she became pregnant out of wedlock at the age of seventeen, and Carrie's daughter was diagnosed as "not quite normal" at the age of six months largely to support the judgment ordering the sterilization.

Thankfully not all phrases coined to catch actually do.

Another related sound bite I like is the following statement made by a proponent of sterilization laws when the laws did not pass on the first attempt: "When they voted against it, I really felt they ought to have been sterilized as unfit." Of course the Virginia Assembly men, men of means, were not sterilized. Carrie Buck and other persons of lesser means, on the other hand were.

Posted by: Jim Green | Nov 29, 2006 8:34:26 AM

Here's one that's less widely known but probably more meaningful than Potter Stewart's: "Men feared witches and burned women." - Louis Brandeis's concurrence in Whitney v. California, re mis-targeting a group out of fear of some harm that group isn't really causing. It's from a free speech case, but it's great quote for any kind of discrimination case/issue. (Broader quote: "Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burned women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.")

Posted by: Scott Moss | Nov 28, 2006 1:46:27 PM

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