Justice Antonin Scalia's wit is widely admired, and now it has been quantified. He is, a new study concludes, 19 times as funny as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.Please! Stop! No more! You're... killing... me!
Justice Scalia was the funniest justice, at 77 "laughing episodes." On average, he was good for slightly more than one laugh - 1.027, to be precise - per argument.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer was next, at 45 laughs. Justice Ginsburg produced but four laughs. Justice Clarence Thomas, who rarely speaks during arguments, gave rise to no laughter at all.
Of course, what passes for humor at the Supreme Court would probably not kill at the local comedy club. Consider, for instance, the golden opportunity on Halloween this year when a light bulb in the courtroom's ceiling exploded during an argument.
It takes two justices, it turns out, to screw up a light bulb joke.
"It's a trick they play on new chief justices all the time," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who joined the court that month, said of the explosion.
"Happy Halloween," Justice Scalia retorted.
And then, the kicker. "We're even more in the dark now than before," Chief Justice Roberts said.
Gibbons v. Ogden! Oh, my stars! John, you irrepressible scamp, how you do carry on!
Professor Wexler concedes that his methodology is imperfect. The court reporters who insert the notations may, for instance, be unreliable or biased.
The simple notation "[laughter]" does not, moreover, distinguish between "a series of small chuckles" and "a joke that brought the house down." Nor, Professor Wexler said, does it separate "the genuine laughter brought about by truly funny or clever humor and the anxious kind of laughter that arises when one feels nervous or uncomfortable or just plain scared for the nation's future."(snip)
Sometimes, the laughter that apparently filled the courtroom is hard to comprehend. Chief Justice Roberts, for instance, got a laugh for this observation at an October argument on assisted suicide: "The relationship between the states and the federal government has changed a little since Gibbons v. Ogden," a landmark decision in 1824 about national regulation of the economy.