Using transcripts that say (Laughter) when some levity enters the proceedings, one legal scholar has concluded that the Supreme Court averaged 1.027 laughs per oral argument. The funniest justice is Anton Scalia who holds the record with a total of 77 “laughter episodes” during one year.
On Wednesday, he added to this year’s total. When one attorney suggested that the Court could decide which sections of the Affordable Care Act would survive if the individual mandate were eliminated, Justice Scalia responded, “…what happened to the Eighth Amendment? You really want us to go through these 2700 pages? (Laughter)…Or do expect us to give this function to our law clerks?…” (the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.)
Another example of Scalia humor:
Soon after a light bulb went out with a loud pop during a 2005 oral argument, Justice Scalia said, “We’re even more in the dark now than before.”
Behind Scalia, Justice Breyer has been a close second and Justice Roberts is #3. Meanwhile, Alito and Ginsburg are far behind and, rarely speaking, Justice Thomas is 0 on the humor scale. Here are graphs of the “number of laughing episodes” per justice and “laughing episodes per argument.”
Recent appointees Kagan and Sotomayor have not yet been judged but Kagan is said to have considerable potential. As Solicitor General, Kagan mistakenly referred to Justice Scalia as Mr. Chief but within seconds corrected herself with, “excuse me, Justice Scalia–I didn’t mean to promote you so quickly.”
The Economic Lesson
Analysis that sums up Supreme Court sentiment on the serious side emphasizes the split between the liberal and conservative justices. Perhaps Nicholas Wapshott’s “The Clash That Defined Modern Economics“ conveys not only the conflict between the ideas of John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek” but also the conflict within the Supreme Court. Each supporting the survival of modern capitalism, Keynes believed that state intervention was necessary for the market’s health while Hayek said government constrained the market’s ability to create wealth.
Summarizing each man’s outlook, this rap video introduces Keynes and Hayek.
An Economic Question: Does Keynes or Hayek represent your idealogical tendency?