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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

 

And the Funniest Justice is…

He’s made cracks about bad dictionaries, deadpanned about deporting babies to China, and quipped that a justice’s job could at times violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

By making the audience and other justices of the Supreme Court laugh during oral arguments more than five dozen times, Justice Antonin G. Scalia sailed to an easy victory as this term’s Funniest Justice. Since DC Dicta began keeping count, Scalia is undefeated.

So the real race was for second place. And though Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. made a real contest of it, it was Justice Stephen G. Breyer who walked away with the silver this term, with Roberts coming in third.

According to the laugh count, as noted in the Court’s official transcripts, every justice earned at least one laugh this term except Justice Clarence Thomas, who hasn’t made a comment during oral arguments – humorous or otherwise – since Feb. 22, 2006. Let’s just hope that when he does speak, we’ll get a chuckle out of it.

Here is the final tally:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 63

Justice Stephen Breyer: 47

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 26

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 11

Justice Elena Kagan: 7

Justice Samuel Alito: 5

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 13: Unquestionably funny

“I don’t want to repeat the question for the third time,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said during an exchange with attorney Carter G. Phillips during yesterday’s oral arguments in the case Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter.

“I wish you would,” said Justice Antonin G. Scalia to Breyer. “I’ve lost the question.”

As the audience laughed, Breyer retorted: “Well, here sometimes not everyone pays sufficient attention to these very clear questions.” More laughs.

The familiar Scalia & Breyer comedy act was in full effect at the court this week, but it was Breyer who was the week’s funniest justice, drawing five laughs during oral arguments in three cases. Scalia, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Justice Elena Kagan each scored two laughs.

Here’s the tally with only one week of oral arguments remaining in the term:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 61

Justice Stephen Breyer: 46

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 25

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 11

Justice Elena Kagan: 7

Justice Samuel Alito: 5

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 11: Speedy justice

“Policemen frequently don’t arrest people for everything they might arrest them for,” Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out Wednesday during oral arguments in the case Reichle v. Howards. “I mean jaywalking, to take an example. There are all kinds of things where they just normally don’t arrest somebody. … I might sometimes have driven 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile zone. And I shouldn’t even admit this. I hope I get away with it.”

That comment earned Breyer one of the six laughs he received this week from the courtroom audience, making him the week’s Funniest Justice, and helping him chip away at fellow funnyman Justice Antonin Scalia’s lead for the term. With just three weeks of oral arguments left, can Breyer pull off an upset and best the three-time Funniest Justice champ?

Here are the standings for the term so far:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 44

Justice Stephen Breyer: 38

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 24

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 6

Justice Samuel Alito: 5

Justice Elena Kagan: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 9: Defining amusement

During oral arguments Tuesday in the case Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, which considers whether translators are covered under a federal statute that awards costs of ‘compensation for interpreters’ to prevailing parties, the petitioner’s attorney pointed out that the responded relied upon a single dictionary: Webster’s Third.

“Webster’s Third, as I recall, is the dictionary that defines ‘imply’ to mean ‘infer” and ‘infer’ to mean ‘imply,’” Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out. “It’s not a very good dictionary.”

That was one of four comments Scalia made this week that earned laughter from the audience, making him – once again – the week’s Funniest Justice. Justice Samuel Alito made an unusually strong showing, earning three laughs, as Chief Justice John G. Roberts drew two rounds of chuckles. Justice Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan each earned one laugh.

Here are the latest standings:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 35

Justice Stephen Breyer: 26

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 14

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 6

Justice Samuel Alito: 4

Justice Elena Kagan: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

The Funniest justice, week 7: Fleeting laughter

It’s not often that Supreme Court justices opine about the way celebrities such as Cher and Nicole Richie speak. But during oral arguments Tuesday in FCC v. Fox, Justice Stephen Breyer did just that.

“What Fox was penalized for was two women on television who basically used a fleeting expletive which seems to be naturally part of their vocabulary,” Breyer said, drawing one of the seven laughs he earned during oral arguments this week.

This is the second oral argument week in a row that Breyer has led the score in laughs, slowly chipping away at Justice Antonin Scalia’s lead in the Funniest Justice Tally. Here are the standings after seven weeks of oral arguments:

Here are the standings after seven weeks:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 27

Justice Stephen Breyer: 23

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 11

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 5

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Samuel Alito: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 5: Scalia swings at first pitch

When attorney Aaron M. Panner began making his argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of his client, the defendant in a RESPA case, he didn’t realize he was setting up a joke.

“It seems to me that there are two positions that have been articulated before the Court and both are inconsistent with the Court’s prior decisions,” Panner began his argument Monday in the case First American Financial Corp v. Edwards.

Without missing a beat, Justice Antonin Scalia jumped in.

“Not yours and his?” Scalia asked, referring to Panner and the plaintiff’s attorney, and drawing chuckles from the crowd.

Panner clarified.

“That of the plaintiff and that of the government, Your Honor. I should have been more particularized,” Panner said, drawing his own laughter.

Scalia’s quick quip was one of three laugh-inducing comments from the Court’s most senior associate justice, padding his lead in our Funniest Justice tally. Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer* each earned two laughs this week, and Justice Anthony Kennedy* also made it on the board with one laugh.

Here’s the running tally after five weeks of oral arguments:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 18

Justice Stephen Breyer: 12

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 9

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas (still no peep): 0

Justice Samuel Alito: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0

*While DC Dicta usually goes strictly by Court transcripts in determining the laugh tally, this week we made an exception because we witnessed a laugh-inducing comment made by Breyer which was credited to Kennedy in the transcript. Specifically, during arguments in the case Hall v. U.S., we are quite positive that it was Breyer, no Kennedy, who said: “It’s like an Abbott and Costello movie.” (See p. 14 of the transcript). Luckily, Kennedy earned his own laugh in Setser v. U.S. (See pp. 18-19 of the transcript) so he should not feel robbed.

Ginsburg recounts Court’s crazy questions

During oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices can ask some wacky questions.

In a speech last week before a local bar association in New York State, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recapped some of her favorite doozies from the term just past.

“Questions from the bench ranged from the historical: ‘[W]hat [did] James Madison th[ink] about video games[?]’” Ginsburg noted, referring to Justice Samuel Alito’s question in the violent video games case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn., “to the practical: ‘[I]sn’t . . . evidence always . . . destroyed when . . . marijuana [once possessed by a suspect] is . . . smoked?  Isn’t it being burnt up?’” That question was from Justice Anthony Kennedy in the search and seizure case Kentucky v. King.

“Colleagues have been fearful: ‘Does al-Qaeda know all this stuff?’” she continued, a reference to Justice Antonin Scalia’s query in NASA v. Nelson.

Another kicker, also posed by Scalia in Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. v. Siracusano: “What do you think about Satan?”

Ginsburg observed that she herself  “uttered none of the just-recited lines.  For, as the New York Times reported, based originally on an empirical study by a former law clerk of mine, when it comes to oral argument, I am—quote—‘ the least funny Justice who talks.’”

[DC Dicta would like the justice to note that, according to our count, that is not true. Last term Ginsburg proved to be funnier than Justices Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.]

The Funniest Justice, week 11: Take my dissent, please! (access required)

During oral arguments yesterday in the case J.D.B v. North Carolina, Justice Stephen Breyer was searching for case law that would give guidance on whether age should be a factor in determining whether someone should be read the Miranda warning.

The support “comes from three cases: The first is Berkemer [v. McCarty], the second Stansbury [v. California], and the … third case, of course, is my dissent in Alvarez,” Breyer said, drawing laughs from the audience (surely not just because he actually meant to say Yarborough v. Alvarado.)

About 20 minutes later – when a different attorney was arguing – Breyer came back to the point.

“You know the sentence I’m referring to in my dissent, presumably?” Breyer asked.

“Some people don’t read the dissents – he may not have read it,” Justice Antonin Scalia interjected, drawing laughter.

“I live always in hope,” Breyer said.

The Breyer-Scalia comedy team dominated again this week at the Supreme Court. The duo collectively scored seven of the 10 laughs recorded on the transcripts this week. Here’s the full tally after 11 weeks of oral arguments so far this term:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 35

Justice Stephen Breyer: 23

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.: 20

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 7

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 4

Justice Samuel Alito: 2

Justice Elena Kagan: 2

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0 (The silence since Feb. 22, 2006 continues…)