December 31, 2005

Counting the laughs...

... in Supreme Court oral arguments.

Is a sense of humor a mark of a good judicial mind? It's Scalia and then Breyer with the most laughs, and Roberts is off to a good start.

To get laughs from your sense of humor, of course, you've got to make your observations out loud. Who knows what amusing things Clarence Thomas is thinking in his silence? I know I'd have different thoughts depending on whether I actively engaged in debate with the lawyers. If I did, I'd have to concentrate on the terms of the legal argument. If I didn't, I'd think much more about how the lawyers and judges looked and acted as characters in a human drama -- a very rich source of witty remarks, but nothing you can interpose at oral argument.

ADDED: Why isn't Green Bag available on line? It would be nice to be able to read an link to Professor Wexler's article (the basis for the article I linked to above).

MORE: Gordon Smith aptly observes that counting the laughs mostly only counts which judges think they are funny, since the captive audience will tend to oblige the judge with a laugh when he tries to be funny. What are you going to do? Groan and roll your eyes? Also, the courtroom is a tense and sober place that laughing is a special relief. You might have had any number of things you wanted to laugh at and had to stifle yourself.

AND: Here's a PDF of the Wexler article!


chuck b. said...

This struck me as odd: "The court reporters who insert the notations may, for instance, be unreliable or biased." Oh, I doubt it.

This theory would seem more plausible, and enjoyable, if the court reporter made more insightful transcriptions like, "[Nervous laughter]" or "[Awkward, uncomfortable silence]".

Adam said...

If the Green Bag's articles were available online for free, less people would pay to subscribe. Then again, those people wouldn't get the bobbleheads, etc.

Honey Badger said...

Rather than "tense and sober", I always find the atmosphere to be "electric" and "highly-charged". The sheer drama of it all is so exhilarating, you almost feel high. (Though admittedly this feeling is likely enhanced by sleep deprivation due to waiting on the steps since 2AM the night before.)

I have noticed myself laughing out loud at things that would normally only provoke a smile. Who knows...I suspect it's because I'm totally amped to be there.

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