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The Funniest Justice, week 1: A *pop* of the tongue

During oral arguments Tuesday, Justice Antonin Scalia was trying to figure out just how violent a “violent felony” needs to be to qualify for a sentence enhancement under a federal statute.

When Leondra R. Kruger, assistant to the Solicitor General, argued that a crime that poses a “sufficient potential for harm” should qualify, Scalia perked up.

“Congress meant the threat?” Scalia asked.  “It doesn’t even have to be the act? ‘You know, if you don’t shut up, I am going to come over and thwonk you on your shoulder with my index finger. I’m going to-‘” (Scalia points out his index finger and makes a “pop” sound with his tongue). “This is a violent felony under this statute which gets him how many more years?”

“It creates a mandatory minimum of 15 years,” Kruger answered.

“Fifteen years for (pops his tongue again)?”

Even when making the job of the court reporter a little more challenging – how to you transcribe a tongue pop? – Scalia knows how to draw a laugh at in the courtroom. He scored four laughs during the term’s first week of oral arguments. But it wasn’t enough to put him in the lead – Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. also drew laughter from the crowd four times, allowing him to keep his lead as The Funniest Justice so far.

Here is the laugh count:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.: 6

Justice Antonin Scalia: 5

Justice Stephen Breyer: 3

Justice John Paul Stevens: 2

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 2

Justice Samuel Alito: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas (Thomas has remained silent during oral arguments since Feb. 22, 2006): 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0

(Standings are based on the Court’s official transcripts, and include the re-argument of Citizens United v. FEC in September)

P.S. Oh, how did the court reported indicate Scalia’s tongue pop noise? As so: “(snap)”

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