Laughter and the Supreme Court

Ryan A. Malphurs, a litigation consultant with a doctorate in communications, has just released a study on laughter at the Supreme Court. His findings are based on first hand observations during nine weeks of Supreme Court oral arguments, audio files of 71 oral argument cases, and transcripts from 2006-2007 Supreme Court oral arguments which contain the stenographer tag “(laughter)”. Additionally, Mr. Malphurs’ documented the topic which elicited each laughter episode.

Justice Scalia again turns out to be the funniest justice, and he is again followed by Justice Breyer. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who joined the court in 2005, after the Wexler study was completed, was “squarely in third place,” Mr. Malphurs found. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who came onboard in 2006, gave Justice Ginsburg stiff competition for the role of least funny justice who talks.

As a bonus, Mr. Malphurs’ illustrated a failed use at humor during the Roe v. Wade case. Advocate Jay Floyd began his opening argument with a failed joke that set the tone for his argument, “Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court. It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they are going to have the last word.” Pausing for the justices’ laughter, and gaining only cold silence, Mr. Floyd struggled to gain momentum through the rest of his argument. A note to struggling comics: the Supreme Court is not a good place to try out new material. “Hey hey double K!”

From the NY Times.

Read the study.

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One thought on “Laughter and the Supreme Court

  1. Thanks for the shout-out! As I stated earlier, my favorite line in this article is: “Asked about the Malphurs study, Professor Wexler said, ‘I’m not sure what to think about it, but I’m pretty sure it makes me want to die.'”

    Meee-ouch!

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