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And the Funniest Justice is…

During oral arguments Tuesday, Justice Antonin G. Scalia asked why “my choice of marrying whom I want” can’t be considered property.

“I think it’s more properly viewed as a liberty interest,” said Justice Department attorney Sarah E. Harrington. “It’s not a source of economic value in the sort of traditional sense.”

“A lot of people marry for money,” Scalia deadpanned, drawing laughs.

For a while there, it looked like there may be a contest between Justices Scalia and Stephen G. Breyer for the title of Funniest Justice of OT 2012. But in the end, Scalia broke away to easily win and remain undefeated since DC Dicta began keeping tally 6 years ago.

Here are the final standings of the term:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 50

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 40

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 16

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 9

Justice Elena Kagan: 9

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 7

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 5

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

The Funniest Justice, week 13: Power laugh

During oral arguments Wednesday in a case considering whether Congress has the power to apply federal sex offender registry requirements retroactively, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. questioned whether the source of Congress’ power matters.

“I don’t see how it makes a difference which enumerated power you’re talking about,” Roberts said.

“I think it does turn on the nature of the power,” said attorney M. Carolyn Fuentes. “I mean, could you use the military power to say you, Mr. Bank Fraud Client, cannot contract with the Government any more? No.”

“I get to ask the questions; you don’t,” Roberts deadpanned, to laughter from the audience.

The chief justice was the top chuckle earner this week with four laugh. And surprisingly, the usually funny Scalia failed to earn a single laugh this week, according to the Supreme Court’s transcripts. But his big lead remains intact.

Here are the standings after 13 weeks:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 48

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 39

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 15

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 9

Justice Elena Kagan: 8

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 7

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 4

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

 

The Funniest Justice, week 12: Skimming for laughs

During oral arguments yesterday in U.S. v. Windsor – the challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked the attorney for the law’s defenders whether denying federal marriage recognition to same-sex couples legally married under state law was  “diminishing what the state has said is marriage.”

“You’re saying no, the state said two kinds of marriage; the full marriage, and then this sort of . . .  skim milk marriage,” Ginsburg said, drawing – for the first time this term – laughs from the audience, according to the Supreme Court’s official transcripts.

And with that, for the first time since DC Dicta began tallying the justices’ laughs-worthy comments, every single justice is on the board (most years it was the usually-silent Justice Clarence Thomas who always had the goose egg).  This week, Justice Antonin G. Scalia was again the top laugh earner, adding five more to his sizable lead.

Here are the standings after 12 oral argument weeks:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 48

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 38

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 11

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 9

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 7

Justice Elena Kagan: 7

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 3

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

 

The Funniest Justice, week 11: Eating Scalia’s words

During oral arguments Wednesday in Dan’s City Used Cars, Inc. v. Pelkey , Justice Antonin G. Scalia quoted an excerpt of a Supreme Court opinion, then turned to attorney Andre Bouffard to grill him.

“So you want us to eat those words, [say] they were wrong, or somehow you don’t come within them?” Scalia pressed.

“Respectfully, Justice Scalia,” Bouffard answered, “I think those words came from your dissent in that case.”

“Ah,” Scalia said, drawing laughs from the courtroom. “I forgot that.”

We don’t know if Scalia was aware that Justice Stephen G. Breyer was closing in on his lead in the Funniest Justice tally, but this week he was an absolute comedian on the bench, drawing a whopping nine laughs to pad his lead. Breyer showed his funny side once again, gaining four laughs. Here’s the tally after 11 weeks.

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 43

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 34

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 9

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 6

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 6

Justice Elena Kagan: 6

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 3

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 10: Extra time for laughter

When Paul Clement, the attorney for the respondent in the case American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, wrapped up his oral argument Wednesday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. told him: “We’ll afford you some rebuttal time.”

Puzzled, the Clement looked at the chief justice and slowly took his seat. Roberts, realizing his mistake – only the petitioner’s attorney gets rebuttal time – corrected himself: “Oh, no we won’t!”

As the justices and onlookers laughed, Justice Antonin G. Scalia jumped in.

“You should have said, ‘I accept,’ very quickly,” Scalia said to Clement, drawing more laughter.

Scalia found himself in the familiar spot of being the week’s Funniest Justice, making the crowd laugh seven times during arguments this week. But Justice Stephen G. Breyer is still making a contest of it, drawing six laughs to stay within striking distance of his colleague. Here are the current standings:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 34

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 30

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 9

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 6

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 5

Justice Elena Kagan: 5

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 2

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

 

The Funniest Justice, week 9: The joys of taxes and edamame

After asking several questions in a futile effort to calculate a foreign tax rate during oral arguments Wednesday in PPL Corp. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, an exasperated Justice Stephen G. Breyer gave up.

“All right. I have said enough,” Breyer said. “My law clerks would have picked this up. They would have written it down and I will be able to go back with the transcript to study it, which I will do.”

That comment earned Breyer one of his five laughs from this holiday-shortened oral argument week, making him this week’s Funniest Justice – and giving him a real shot at overtaking Justice Antonin G. Scalia in our term-long tally.

But it was Justice Elena Kagan who was the breakout comedian this week, earning a career-high four laughs. During oral arguments in the patent case Bowman v. Monsanto Co., she drew chuckles by speculating whether a 10-year-old could inadvertently infringe a soybean seed patent by growing plants from edamame.

When attorney Seth Waxman informed Kagan that edamame cannot produce soybean plants, Kagan responded: “And I thought I was being so clever, too.” More laughs.

Here are the latest standings:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 27

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 24

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 8

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 6

Justice Elena Kagan: 5

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 4

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

 

Sotomayor takes up case of the Funniest Justice

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor’s book tour took her to Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” yesterday, where she was asked whether she enjoys herself on the Supreme Court.

“Well, you know, some of my colleagues are pretty funny. So occasionally we do laugh,” Sotomayor told Stephen Colbert.

“Who’s the funniest?” Colbert asked.

Sotomayor declined to say which justice she personally thinks is the Court’s biggest side splitter.

“But do you know that there’s an article that actually measures the number of laughs?” Sotomayor said. “I’m pretty low on that scale.”

Actually, Justice, your four laughs so far this term ranks you right in the middle in the Funniest Justice standings. Shall we review?

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 25

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 19

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 7

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 6

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 4

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

You can see Sotomayor’s full “Colbert Report” interview on the show’s website.

The Funniest Justice, week 8: Breaking silence with laughter

History has been made: For the first time since DC Dicta began counting the laughs at oral arguments, Justice Clarence Thomas is on the board! The usually silent justice made a funny – if unintelligible – comment Monday, lifting him from the last-place spot he’s occupied in our tally since it began six years ago.

(Not to be outdone, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. also earned his first laugh of the term during the same argument, leaving Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the only justice yet to show a funny side).

Here are the stats after eight weeks of arguments:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 25

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 19

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 7

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 6

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 4

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

 

The Funniest Justice, week 7: A funny direction

During oral arguments yesterday in a case to determine if lawyers violated federal privacy laws by using driving records to look for potential class action clients, Justice Stephen G. Breyer tried to draw a line between proper and improper conduct.

“What I’m trying to get at is the statement that I could write in an opinion that will draw the boundary of this provision [that will] help your client because they will cover this case, but will also be south of that,” Breyer said.

Clearly such wording left Justice Antonin G. Scalia lost.

“What is south? I don’t have a compass here.” Scalia said, drawing laughs.

That was one of four humorous quips Scalia made this week, making him the week’s funniest justices and helping him to pad his lead so far on this term’s ongoing tally:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 16

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 10

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.:6

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 3

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 3

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 6: International laughter

During oral arguments Wednesday in the case Chafin v. Chafin, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wanted to know whether a Scottish court, in determining someone’s habitual residence, would consider a U.S. court decision.

“I think they would pay attention to what other courts have said,” Breyer said. “Am I right or wrong? I want to know if I’m right or wrong.”

But instead of the arguing attorney giving him an answer, his colleague did.

“We have a brief in the case telling us that the question Justice Breyer is posing,” Ginsburg said. “They would say it’s irrelevant.”

“They would?” Breyer said.

“Justice Ginsburg, that is correct,” attorney Stephen Cullen finally said.

Well, thank for Justice Ginsburg’s answer,” Breyer replied. “She is very helpful.”

Breyer was the top laugh earner this week, adding three chuckles to his score in our ongoing tally of the term’s Funniest Justice. Justice Antonin G. Scalia earned two laughs to hold onto his solid lead in the race, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. made the crowd giggle once.

Here is the full tally for the term so far:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 12

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 8

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.: 5

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 3

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 3

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 0

 

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