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Scalia’s hip-hop culture lesson

During oral arguments in the case Smith v. Cain Tuesday, attorney Kannon K. Shanmugam was tasked with more than just convincing the Court that New Orleans prosecutors withheld material impeachment evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland. He also had to teach Justice Antonin Scalia a little bit about 1990s-era hip-hop culture.

“There were five other suspects who had gold teeth and low-cut haircuts” besides the defendant in the case, Shanmugam explained at one point.

“Faded haircuts and gold teeth were not a unique characteristic?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked.

“They were not uncommon in the 1990s,” Shanmugam said.

But Scalia seemed equally puzzled and intrigued.

“They are uncommon to me,” Scalia said, drawing laughter from the audience.

Scalia needed more clarification from Shanmugam to paint a clearer picture.

“These were not gold teeth that were implanted, right?” Scalia asked as onlookers in the press gallery and audience continued to snicker. “Was it some kind of a mouthpiece of gold?”

Shanmugam knew his limitations. “I have to admit that my familiarity with this practice is perhaps not that much greater than yours, Justice Scalia,” Shanmugam admitted.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Scalia said.

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