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Tag Archives: The funniest justice

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 2: Million dollar laugh

During her oral argument Tuesday in the case Ryan v. Valencia Gonzales, attorney Leticia Marquez argued that criminal defense lawyers who lose the ability to effectively communicate with their client have a duty to raise the issue with the judge.

“Is he under duty to raise it as soon as possible, at the risk of forfeiture if he doesn’t?” asked Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

“Well, that’s the million dollar question,” Marquez said.

“Well, that’s why I’m asking,” Kennedy replied to laughter from the crowd.

And with that, the swing-voting justice is on the board in our ongoing count to determine this term’s Funniest Justice. Justice Antonin G. Scalia and Justice Stephen G. Breyer also each earned a laugh this week. Here are our standings after week 2:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.: 3

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 3

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 2

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 0

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 0

Justice Elena Kagan: 0

 

The Funniest Justice, week 12: Cruel and unusual laughter

Wednesday, the last of three days of oral arguments on the federal health care reform law, Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler urged the Court to sever any portion of the law held unconstitutional from the rest of the statute.

“Mr. Kneedler, what happened to the Eighth Amendment? You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?”Justice Scalia asked, drawing loud laughter from the packed courtroom.

It was fitting that during such an historic week at the Court, Scalia would garner an unprecedented number of laughs: a whopping 15, easily earning him the title of the Funniest Justice of the week, and all but cementing his fourth consecutive title for the whole term.

There was apparently plenty to laugh at about the health care law and its individual mandate. In addition’s to Scalia’s comedic quips, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan each earned three laughs, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor each earned one.

With only two weeks to go, here are the standings for the term so far:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 59

Justice Stephen Breyer: 41

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 25

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 9

Justice Samuel Alito: 5

Justice Elena Kagan: 5

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 10: Intern in humor

During Monday’s oral arguments in Elgin v. U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, petitioner’s counsel made the point that some federal employees have no right to bring constitutional employment claims before the Merit Systems Protection Board, such as summer interns.

“I assume that’s for very different reasons,” than the employees at issue in the case, Chief Justice John G. Roberts said. “One because they are summer interns and you know, if they are impermissibly treated it’s kind of — they are summer interns.”

That comment was one of six the chief justice earned this week, making him the week’s Funniest Justice. Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer were right on his heels, with five laughs apiece. Here are the standings for the term so far:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 40

Justice Stephen Breyer: 32

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 20

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 8: The great laugh of China

During oral arguments Wednesday in the immigration case Holder v. Gutierrez, Justice Stephen Breyer hypothesized about a legal permanent resident whose non-resident infant child would have to be deported back to their country of origin.

Justice Antonin Scalia interjected.

“But I suppose if they come with somebody else’s 6-month-old child, they would have to send that child back to China, too, wouldn’t they?” Scalia said. “Which would be very sad, but that would be the law, right?”

“Actually they came from Italy, in my hypothetical,” Breyer said to Scalia, drawing laughs from the audience and other justices.

Without missing a beat, Scalia brought it home: “They should not have sent him back to China, then. Why did they do that?”

That exchange helped Scalia get the most laughs – three – this week, making him the week’s Funniest Justice. It also helped him to add a bit of padding to his lead for the term so far. Here are the standings after eight weeks:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 30

Justice Stephen Breyer: 25

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 12

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 6

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 6: Patently funny

“Look, anything can be transformed into a process,” Justice Stephen Breyer told Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Wednesday during oral arguments in the patent case Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, “Look at those real estate ones, lawyers ones. I have a way of making a great argument in the Supreme Court. You know, you could patent some of your arguments.”

This was one of four funny comments from Breyer during this week of oral arguments, making him this week’s top laugh earner. Justice Antonin Scalia got three chuckles, while Justice Anthony Kennedy earned two laughs.

Here are the standings after six weeks:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 21

Justice Stephen Breyer: 16

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 9

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 3

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Justice Samuel Alito: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 4: Lazy laughter

During oral arguments Tuesday in the case National Meat Association v. Harris, the Justice Stephen Breyer asked if the Court had to “write an 11-part opinion” dissecting each individual provision of a state statute to determine if it was preempted by a federal meat inspection law.

“I’m not trying to get out of work,” Breyer said, drawing laughter from the audience. “I just want to know.”

Without missing a beat, Justice Antonin Scalia chimed in.

“I’d like to get out of the work, to tell you the truth,” Scalia said as the crowd laughed again.

This week, Scalia broke open a wide lead in this terms funniest justice contest, earning a whopping eight laughs during oral arguments. Breyer earned three, while Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg each made the crowd chuckle once.

Here are the standings so far:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 15

Justice Stephen Breyer: 10

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 7

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 0

Justice Clarence Thomas (silence continues): 0

Justice Samuel Alito: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 3: Indisputable laughter

During oral arguments Tuesday in the case Rehberg v. Paulk, Justice Stephen Breyer questioned whether the Court was required to look to common law to determine if an investigator who lied during grand jury testimony was immune from suit.

“Well, one brief disagreement with your question, Your Honor,” began attorney Andrew Pincus.

“You can’t disagree with my question,” quipped Breyer, spurring laughter from the audience and other justices.

Breyer edged out Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts as the Funniest Justice of the week – and is now tied with Scalia as the funniest justice of the term so far. Breyer drew laughs during oral arguments five times this week, while Scalia earned four laughs and Roberts earned three.

Here are the standings for the term after three weeks:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 7

Justice Stephen Breyer: 7

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 6

Justice Elena Kagan: 1 (We heard Kagan get a laugh this week, but the court reporter didn’t – and we count according to the transcript.)

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 0

Justice Clarence Thomas (the silent type): 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel Alito: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 2: The arm’s-length joke

During oral arguments Wednesday in the case considering whether strips searches of individuals jailed on minor offenses violates the Fourth Amendment, attorney Carter Phillips was asked how close prison officials get to the inmates.

“It almost certainly would have been about an arm’s length, because [the jail officials are] handing them clothes to change into,” Phillips said. “It is sort of hard to be longer than arm’s length and actually get the clothes into his hand.”

“Two arms’ lengths,” corrected Justice Antonin Scalia. “I mean, [the inmate] could reach out, right?”

And with that laugh, Scalia moves into a tie with the chief justice in our weekly Funniest Justice tally. Here are the standings after week 2:

Chief Justice John G Roberts: 3

Justice Antonin Scalia: 3

Justice Stephen Breyer: 2

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 0

Justice Clarence Thomas (the silent type): 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel Alito: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 1: Hail to the Chief comic

During oral arguments in the case Maples v. Thomas, attorney John C. Neiman, Jr., sought to explain why a state’s attorney sent a notice to a defendant – as opposed to his lawyer – that his time to file a petition for relief had expired.

“At that point in time, the State case was over,” Neiman siad. “So, it was hardly clear if [the prosecutor] was going to do something that he didn’t have to do under the rules.”

“Why did he do it, then?” asked Chief Justice John G. Roberts. “Just gloating that the fellow had lost?”

That remark earned the chief justice one of the three laughs he drew during this term’s first week of oral arguments, putting him in the lead of our first weekly tally of The Funniest Justice. The ever comedic Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer were right behind him with two laughs apiece, and Justice Elena Kagan also drew chuckles from the audience once.

Here are the week 1 standings:

Chief Justice John G Roberts: 3

Justice Antonin Scalia: 2

Justice Stephen Breyer: 2

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 0

Justice Clarence Thomas (the silent type): 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel Alito: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0