When judges get bored …

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Chief Justice of the United States, Mr John Roberts, must have lost a bet.  Or maybe he was just bored.  Either way, he cooked up a stunner.  In the case of Pennsylvania v Dunlap, in 2008, he wrote the following paragraphs in a case judgment.  Astute readers will recognise the unmistakable tone of hardboiled 1930s detective writers Damon Runyon and Raymond Chandler.  Even a judge has to have fun sometimes.

* * *

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

PENNSYLVANIA v. NATHAN DUNLAP

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT  OF PENNSYLVANIA, EASTERN DISTRICT

No. 07–1486.  Decided October 14, 2008

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.  CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS, with whom JUSTICE KENNEDY joins, dissenting from denial of certiorari.

North Philly, May 4, 2001.  Officer Sean Devlin, Narcotics Strike Force, was working the morning shift.  Under­cover surveillance.  The neighborhood?  Tough as a three-dollar steak.  Devlin knew.  Five years on the beat, nine months with the Strike Force.  He’d made fifteen, twenty drug busts in the neighborhood.

Devlin spotted him: a lone man on the corner.  Another approached.  Quick exchange of words.  Cash handed over; small objects handed back.  Each man then quickly on his own way.  Devlin knew the guy wasn’t buying bus tokens. He radioed a description and Officer Stein picked up the buyer.  Sure enough: three bags of crack  in the guy’s pocket.  Head downtown and book him.  Just another day at the office.

* * *

The full judgment can be found here, on public record:

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/08pdf/07-1486.pdf

A fictional incident along these lines had been portrayed in TV series The West Wing a number of years back.  Life imitating art?  Probably not: judges have been doing this for years – just like all educated people, they enjoy working the English language to its fullest expression.  And, after all, they’re only human: we all need our ludic moments from time to time.

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