The Funniest Justice, week 11: Hail to the Chief

March 26, 2009

During oral arguments Tuesday in the case Citizens United v. FEC,  Justice John Paul Stevens asked attorney Ted Olson his view on a point of legal precedent.

“Do you think the Chief Justice’s opinion in that case correctly stated the law?” Stevens asked.

“Of course,” Olson said obediently, drawing laughter. “By definition.”

scalia1“Good answer,” deadpanned Justice Antonin Scalia, prompting more laughter.

That last laugh get helped Scalia maintain his six-laugh lead in his bid to be this term’s funniest justice. But with just nine oral argument days left in the term, Justice Stephen Breyer and Chief Justice John Roberts remain in the running, trailing Scalia by ten laughs or less.

Here are the laugh standings as if today:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 36

Justice Stephen Breyer: 30

Chief Justice John Roberts: 26

Justice David Souter: 11

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 10

Justice John Paul Stevens: 10

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 4

Justice Samuel Alito: 2

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0 (Thomas hasn’t offered an oral argument question or comment since Feb. 22, 2006).

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UPDATED: The Funniest Justice, week 10

March 5, 2009

scaliahands

UPDATE: The argument transcript for Dean v. U.S. is up (much thanks to the Court’s press office for the heads up!) and the laugh tally has been updated. Justice Scalia still holds an six-laugh lead, but he and Justice Breyer each earned an additional laugh.

“You want to talk about what’s a sensible system and what is not a sensible system,” Justice Antonin Scalia said during Monday’s oral arguments in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend. “In Massachusetts, [when] I was in law school, they had a compensation limit for wrongful death, but no limit for pain and suffering, for negligence. And the line was: ‘Back her up again! Back her up again, Sam, she’s not quite dead yet!'”

Those words drew one of three laughs Scalia got from the courtroom crowd this week, helping him maintain his six-laugh lead over Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. in the quest to be this term’s Funniest Justice.

Please note that this week we must add an asterisk of sorts to the totals, because they are based on the Court’s transcripts, but the record of yesterday’s arguments in Dean v. U.S. is not yet available on the Court’s website. When the record is available, those laughs will be included in the week 11 tally.

In the meantime, here are the laugh standings based on available Court transcripts:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 33 34

Justice Stephen Breyer: 27 28

Chief Justice John Roberts: 25

Justice David Souter: 11

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 10

Justice John Paul Stevens: 9

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 4

Justice Samuel Alito: 2

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0 (Thomas hasn’t made a remark during oral arguments since Feb. 22, 2006, but he often laughed right along with the audience during this week’s funnies).


The funniest ex-justice

March 4, 2009

oconnorAfter taking in oral arguments at the Supreme Court Tuesday morning, retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor went to the set of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show as a guest.

The appearance gave O’Connor, who went on the show to promote her civics website www.ourcourts.org, a chance to show off her comic skills. And she held her own against the show’s host, Jon Stewart.

“You were known in your days as a moderate justice, one that was not ideological. So clearly you would not be able to be on the Court today,” Stewart joked.

“I don’t know, I was just a cowgirl,” O’Connor laughed, “and they don’t have too many of those around these days.”

“And you were the first woman on the Court,” Steward noted.

“The first cowgirl!” O’Connor interjected, drawing laughs from the crowd.

When O’Connor spoke of often having to break 4-4 ties on the Court during her tenure, and Stewart referred to her as a swing justice, she objected.

“We don’t use that word – swing,” she said. “I mean, come on,” she continued before making a swinging noise and swinging her hands from side to side to the audience’s delight. “No, no-no!”

Steward corrected himself, calling her instead “the most principled justice.”

“There you go!” O’Connor said. “Much better! Much better.

“He’s a fast learner,” she told the audience, who again erupted in laughter, applause and hoots.

See the video here on Comedy Central’s website.


The funniest justice, week 9: Ginsburg gets giggles

February 26, 2009

rbginsburgAt one point during Tuesday’s oral arguments in Carlsbad Technology v. HIF Bio, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked about the Court’s 1995 case Things Remembered, Inc. v. Petrarca.

“I looked again at Things Remembered, and it turned out to be just as I remembered it,” she said, drawing laughs from the crowd.

That was one of two laughs that the normally serious Ginsburg earned this week in her much anticipated return to the bench after cancer surgery, showing that her sense of humor is also healthy.

Meanwhile, the race for the title The Funniest Justice has tightened again this week, as quips by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Justice Stephen Breyer brought them a little bit closer to possibly overtaking Justice Antonin Scalia, who usually runs away with the title. (To be fair, Scalia’s normally booming baritone voice seemed quieter – and a bit hoarse – this week. Perhaps  a cold is affecting his funny bone?)

Here are the laugh standings after nine weeks of oral arguments:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 30

Justice Stephen Breyer: 24

Chief Justice John Roberts: 23

Justice David Souter: 10

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 9

Justice John Paul Stevens: 7

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 3

Justice Samuel Alito: 2

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0 (Thomas hasn’t made a remark during oral arguments since Feb. 22, 2006).


Monday status conference: Budget and stimulus

February 2, 2009

capdomeThe Supreme Court continues its four-week vacation, as President Barack Obama and congressional lawmakers continue to wrangle not only over the economic stimulus package, but also the federal budget – something that will require careful negotiation and compromise between both parties.

Meanwhile, as you calculate your winnings from the Cards covering the spread last night, here’s a look at the legal news buzz as this week opens:

Split over Crawford: The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision permitting a worker who was fired after answering questions during an internal sex harassment inquiry to pursue a Title VII claim has the defense and plaintiffs’ bars divided over its impact. (Lawyers USA)

Labor rules reversed: President Barack Obama signed several executive orders reversing several Bush administration labor policies. (Lawyers USA)

Presidential/chief justice smackdown? President Barack Obama and Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. agreed on what law school to go to, but the two see eye to eye on little else – and their differences are most pronounced on the issues of affirmative action and Guantanamo Bay. Will this lead to an ongoing beef? Fox News seems to think so. (Fox News)

DOJ extreme makeover: More than any other federal agency, the Justice Department will undergo a diametric shift from former President Bush’s policies to President Obama’s. (NYT)

Rove date pushed back: The House Judiciary Committee has rescheduled a deposition for former senior White House adviser Karl Rove, ordering him to appear Feb. 23 instead of Monday. (AP)


The funniest justice, week 8: When the whole world laughed

January 22, 2009

cjrobertsThere was only one day of oral arguments at the Supreme Court this week. And the three cases heard yesterday did not provide much opportunity for laughter in the courtroom (that is, aside from the laughter in the press gallery as reporters rehashed the presidential oath flub heard around the world).

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. did manage to make the crowd laugh once inside the courtroom. While some court watchers were expecting him to make some sort of self-effacing comment regarding the trouble he had with President Barack Obama’s oath Tuesday – Roberts does, after all, have a pretty good sense of humor – he made no reference to it at all. (Legal Times’ Tony Mauro thinks he may have heard something in the way Roberts pronounced the word “clerk.” DC Dicta didn’t catch that, but we always defer to Tony’s ear, being the astute reporter that he is.)

Justice Stephen Breyer was the only other justice to get a laugh, which creates a real three-way contest in the quest to be the Funniest Justice of the term. Usually Justice Antonin Scalia runs away with it by now, but Nino better think of some funny quips quickly if he wants to stay in top.

Here are the laugh standings after eight weeks of oral arguments:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 29

Justice Stephen Breyer: 22

Chief Justice John Roberts: 20 (Not counting the laughs he may have received Tuesday)

Justice David Souter: 9

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 9

Justice John Paul Stevens: 6

Justice Samuel Alito: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0 (Thomas hasn’t made a remark during oral arguments since Feb. 22, 2006).


The Funniest Justice, week 7: Serious Supremes

January 15, 2009

supremeobamaIt’s been a busy week at the Supreme Court. Aside from hearing oral arguments, The justices handed down four decisions (more on those here, here, here and here). They even had a couple of high-profile visitors stop by.

Perhaps the seriousness of the opinion topics and the upcoming historic transfer of executive power caused the justices to be more serious and less silly on the bench this week. The laughs were few and far between, according to our ongoing review of court transcripts.

Unlike other weeks, where the crowd laughed dozens of times, this week the justices only garnered five rounds of giggles in the Court: two from quips made by the Court’s reigning funny man Justice Antonin Scalia,  two from Justice Stephen Breyer’s comments, and one from a funny made by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

(Looking at the picture, perhaps they saves all their laughs for the incoming president and vice president?)

Here are the laugh standings so for this term, based on Court transcripts:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 29

Justice Stephen Breyer: 21

Chief Justice John Roberts: 19

Justice David Souter: 9

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 9

Justice John Paul Stevens: 6

Justice Samuel Alito: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0 (Thomas hasn’t made a remark during oral arguments since Feb. 22, 2006).