Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sandra Day O’Connor, The Supreme Court, and Laughter

Today’s New York Times has a review of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s latest book, Out of Order. The Times reviewer noted the many things covered in this compendium of Supreme Court miscellany included humor at the Supreme Court and that “[a] law professor’s 2005 study of “laughter episodes instigated,” she notes, suggested that Antonin Scalia was the funniest justice, with Stephen Breyer coming in a faraway second.”

The on-line version of the review includes a helpful link to the referenced study (PDF), Jay D. Wexler, Laugh Track, 9 Green Bag 2D 59 (2005). The author discovered that, starting in the 2004-2005 term, the court reporters who transcribed Supreme Court oral arguments began indicating which justice was speaking. Thus, now when the notation “(Laughter)” appears in the transcript, readers know who the comedians on the court are. The ranking of Scalia as the funniest justice comes from searching all the transcripts from that term for instances of laughter, and the author even produced a little bar graph showing the results of his research, with the Justice's initial and the "Number of Laughing Episodes" for each one:

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