Justice Ginsburg scores first laugh of fall term during SCOTUS oral arguments

By Kimberly Atkins

The Daily Record Newswire

One thing is certain: the first Supreme Court justice to score a laugh during oral arguments this term was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But just when that laugh happened is up for debate.

According to DC Dicta's ears, it occurred during the very first oral argument of the term Monday in Ransom v. FIA Card Services. When Justice Stephen Breyer questioned an attorney about the definition of automobile ''ownership costs'' under federal bankruptcy law, Breyer said: ''That's what I thought Justice Ginsburg was initially asking.''

''Yes, I was,'' Ginsburg said, and there were audible chuckles in the courtroom.

But that laugh was not noted in the Court's transcript. Since DC Dicta bases its official, if unscientific, tally of courtroom laughs on the transcript, that chuckle didn't count.

But, undaunted, Ginsburg struck again - this time in Tuesday's argument in NASA v. Nelson.

When the attorney representing government contract employees objecting to a new federal background check procedure argued that it shouldn't apply to those already employed, Ginsburg showed her commitment to gender equality.

''Are you then saying that these people have to be grandfathered - or grandparented - because they worked for 20 years?'' Ginsburg said, drawing an official laugh.

But the week's Funniest Justice was, unsurprisingly, Justice Antonin Scalia.

In the case Connick v. Thompson, which considers whether district attorneys can be held liable for failing to properly train prosecutors, attorney Stuart Duncan noted that city officials have a duty to train police officers on when not to use deadly force.

''These are people who haven't gone to law school, right?'' Scalia asked.

''And do not know that you cannot apply deadly force in most circumstances? ... If you were giving guns to lawyers, it might have been different.''

As the audience laughed, Duncan said: ''It could be, Your Honor.''

''Depending on the law school they went to or what?'' Scalia said to more laughs.

Here's the laugh count after the first week of oral arguments:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 5; Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.: 1; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1; Justice Stephen Breyer: 1; Justice Samuel Alito, Jr.: 1; Justice Anthony Kennedy: 0; Justice Clarence Thomas: 0 (Last oral argument utterance: Feb. 22, 2006); Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0; Justice Elena Kagan: 0.

Published: Thu, Oct 21, 2010

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