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Monday, August 13, 2012

Justice Scalia Tops Oral Argument Yuks Ranking Once Again

Hello there.  It's great to be back here blawgging on Prawfsblawg again.  During my stay I hope to blog about my new book of short stories and humor pieces that comes out this week as well as a new book project that looks at instances from around the world where religious practices happen to interfere with environmental goals.  But first, since it's the only thing I've ever done that anyone remembers, I thought I'd revisit my old Supreme Court oral argument humor study and update the figures for this past term.

As always, I looked through the oral argument transcripts and counted the number of times each justice said something funny enough to make the court reporter enter the phrase "[laughter]" in the transcript.   Following my typical methodology, I did this in a half-assed fashion while learning to play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on the ukulele.  Also, you should know that tallying up the totals is in many ways a subjective endeavor.  For instance, at first, I refused to give Justices Kagan and Roberts any credit for the laughs they both got while seemingly tripping over each other at the beginning of Walter Dellinger's oral argument in the Hosanna-Tabor case, but then, after realizing that counting Justice Kagan's laugh lines would result in her eclipsing Justice Kennedy to become the fourth funniest justice, I decided to include them, because I like Justice Kagan more than Justice Kennedy.  As you can tell, this shit is art, not science, folks.

Anyway, once again Justice Scalia topped the list of funniest justices, bowling over the audiences with such classic laugh lines as "it must be unconstitutional if it's scary" (US v. Jones), "we don't like that" (Mims), "I don't really care" (Caraco), "you don't want to say that," (Filarsky), "you really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?" (Sebelius), "I'd like to get out of the work to tell you the truth," (National Meat), "that is absolutely weird," (Elgin), and "so, absent legislative history, I guess we have to rely on the words of the statute, right?" (Taniguchi).  Altogether, Justice Scalia got 83 laughs, blowing away Justice Breyer, who came in second at 56 laughs.  Justice Roberts was third with 30 laughs.  The rest, in order, were J. Kagan (15), J. Kennedy (14), J. Alito (7), J. Sotomayor (6), Justice Ginsburg (2), and Justice Thomas (0).  Notably, perhaps, Justice Scalia got 14 laughs during the health care oral arguments alone (Roberts only got one).

As for the funniest joke of the year, I would give that award to Justice Breyer.  In Kawashima v. Holder, the justices were trying to sort out whether tax evasion can ever occur without deceit (you know, or something like that) when Justice Breyer posed this hypothetical to the government lawyer: "Well suppose somebody goes--he goes to a country where we have no extradition treaty, takes all his assets and writes a postcard to the IRS every--once a month saying ha-ha-ha."  I could see a cool indie black and white film premiering at the Toronto Film Festival starring Steve Buscemi just based on that one flitting Breyer thought alone.

Posted by Jay Wexler on August 13, 2012 at 02:43 PM | Permalink


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I like everything about this post. Everything.

Posted by: Wayfarer | Aug 14, 2012 6:19:13 PM

Got my copy of Ed Tuttle in the mail today. Sat outside on the balcony reading a bit this evening. At the end of Black and White Zoo a deer came by, so I watched that for a while and didn't really get much reading done. Black and White was really funny, but, you know, it's a deer. I have my priorities.

There's a crabapple tree just outside, at about the same height as the balcony, and a squirrel was eating some of the apples, and dropped one right behind the deer, but I guess the deer didn't see it, and it just wandered around sniffing under cars in the parking lot. At one point it tried to eat something that was smashed into the asphalt.

So then I got back to reading and finished the Ed Tuttle story. Pretty good, though the scene backstage hit a bit close to home and I was worried he was going to get a DUI at the end. Anyways, by the time I was done with the story the crabapple the squirrel had dropped was gone, so I guess the deer eventually got it. Sometimes things just work out.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Aug 13, 2012 7:57:27 PM

Not to focus on a digression given the seriousness of this post, but what is the chord progression for "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"? I'm hoping it doesn't involve more than C, G7, and F, although I'm okay with G and E minor. (Nothing says "Law & Society 2012" like my abysmal work on the souvenir ukulele.)

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Aug 13, 2012 5:40:05 PM

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