The Supreme Court of the United States has been home to some great prose stylists.
But it's safe to say the great tribunal has not seen, or heard, anyone quite like Antonin Scalia, who has served on the court since 1986. Especially when writing in dissent, Scalia has built a reputation for opinions that combine scorn, outrage, mockery and arcane vocabulary.
Thursday, dissenting from the six-justice majority's decision upholding a key provision of the federal Affordable Care Act, Scalia burst out with "SCOTUS-care," "jiggery-pokery," "pure applesauce' and "somersaults of statutory interpretation."
On Friday he was at it again, writing from the short side of the court's 5-4 decision striking down bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. In a footnote to his dissent, he bashed the prose in the majority opinion:
If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,” I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.
Well, you can say this for Scalia: He can be awfully fun to read. And we imagine that he has a lot of fun writing this stuff -- which will be preserved forever as part of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence. And we figure everyone deserves a chance to channel Scalia for a few minutes, to luxuriate in being the nation's supreme judicial diva.