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"Of course, neither Simon nor Garfunkle has been identified as a Nautical Expert"
June 30, 2008 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Chief Justice Roberts (mis)quotes Bob Dylan* in his dissent on Sprint Communications Co. v. APCC Services, Inc., making this the first known time that a Supreme Court Opinion has used a "rock song to buttress legal opinion," according to Alex B. Long of the University of Tennessee. Mr. Long knows a thing or two about this**, having authored [Insert Song Lyrics Here]***, a Washington & Lee Law review Article on the subject of Pop Music in legal writing. The article is funny†, insightful, comprehensive in its musical background††, and surprisingly knowledgeable about good taste in writing.†††

*To be fair, Alex Long misquotes the line as well. For a full performance, see here.

** The Top Ten Most Cited Musicians (according to Long's admittedly flawed study) are:

1. Bob Dylan
2. The Beatles
3. Bruce Springsteen
4. Paul Simon
5. Woody Guthrie
6. The Rolling Stones
7. The Grateful Dead
8. Simon & Garfunkle
9. Joni Mitchell
10. R.E.M.

*** This is a link to a site where you may download the pdf. Also, I should mention that this is the priority link, See

† Pro Tip: In legal writing, the footnotes are used not only to exhaustively cite one's sources, but also to provide humor, irreverence, and "off-the-record" personal opinions where they would otherwise not be appropriate. This article is full of both.

†† A fun "mix tape" of a small few of the cited songs:
Cracker, Teen Angst
The New Pornographers, The Laws Have Changed
Ludacris, You's a Ho
Violent Femmes, Add It Up
Elvis Costello, Less Than Zero
Tupac Shakur, Holla if You Hear Me
Elvis Presley, Mystery Train
Chuck Berry, Nadine
The Beatles, Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and my Monkey
The Kinks, Lola
The Undertones, Teenage Kicks
R.E.M., It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)

††† If anyone knows how to do proper footnotes on MeFi, please let me know.

Bonus: The "Hum a Few Bar Exam," from Prof. Eugene Volokh of Volokh Conspiracy
posted by Navelgazer (43 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Roberts left out "aint"..... big deal. Roliing Stone has nothing better to write about?


By the way- if you "aint got nothin'", that means you must have something.
posted by Zambrano at 7:06 PM on June 30, 2008


By the way- if you "aint got nothin'", that means you must have something.
No, actually it means descriptivism is a superior tool for understanding language than is prescriptivism.
posted by Flunkie at 7:12 PM on June 30, 2008 [14 favorites]


Roberts left out "aint"..... big deal.

But that is a big deal. "Ain't" is one of the finest words in the American lexicon, and those who are afraid of using it ain't got no sense of their roots.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:14 PM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Garfunkel?
posted by lumensimus at 7:14 PM on June 30, 2008


I guess that's better than Scalia citing Jack Bauer.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:16 PM on June 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


"U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice corrects musician's grammar - film at 11".

Seriously though, Roberts couldn't win this one. If he'd quoted the song correctly, there would have been all sorts of hell for him using "ain't" at all, not to mention the word's inclusion does make the sentence ungrammatical, if not illogical. However, the meaning of the sentence was exactly what he wanted to convey, so I guess he really wanted to use the quote. I think he probably did the right thing by leaving out the "ain't", but if you really want to leave a mark with your words, maybe you should come up with your own, your Honor.
posted by yhbc at 7:19 PM on June 30, 2008


If he'd quoted the song correctly, there would have been all sorts of hell for him using "ain't" at all...

So what? Fuck 'em! Let people complain! He's a Supreme Court judge fer chrissakes! What's he got to worry about? Ain't like they can kick him out! It would've been infinitely cooler (and more respectful to the songwriter's art) if he had quoted the line exactly.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:24 PM on June 30, 2008


Hey, I ain't got no dog in this fight, all's I'm saying ...
posted by yhbc at 7:29 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


J. Roberts - so subversive!

There is much humor to be found in the footnotes of fed judges. I offer into evidence Judge Ronald White's Order of May 5, 2008 in United States v. Stipe (N.D. Okla.) in which Judge White wonders aloud:

"On the other hand, how long may a defendant avoid imposition of justifiable court orders merely because of his age and medical condition? Where does it end? Anarchy? Dogs and cats living together?"

The footnote accompanying the last bit consists of a single YouTube link to the relevant bit in "Ghostbusters."

So, yay for the federal judiciary.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:29 PM on June 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


Nice post. Thanks. It's worth noting that the songs cited in Long's article are not necessarily cited in any judicial opinions. At first, I was like, "Who cited the New Pornographers?" But I was alas merely confused.
posted by chinston at 7:32 PM on June 30, 2008


I sort of feel like Supreme Court Justices don't deserve to quote Dylan; like it's some sort of automatic hypocrisy.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:34 PM on June 30, 2008


Well, sometimes the Chief Justice of Yew-Knighted States just has to stand naked...
posted by jonmc at 7:37 PM on June 30, 2008


I smell an appeal brewing.
posted by mazola at 7:48 PM on June 30, 2008


I think this would have been somewhat more newsworthy had Roberts quoted the Mentors instead.
posted by The Straightener at 7:49 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Straightener: I entirely agree. Had the Chief Justice cited to the precedent set by "suck and fuck and cook and clean, yeah you bitch, you know what I mean," it would certainly be all over the blogosphere, not to mention the major networks. As that didn't happen, somehow, I instead tried to highlight a pretty cool law review article about pop music in legal writing. Metafilter being as irascible as it is, of course, chooses not to care about my bigger point, and I choose to be happy about that fact.

But yeah, SCOTUS didn't make even a dissent quoting an awful, vehemently mysogynist band, so we'll call today a win, huh?
posted by Navelgazer at 7:55 PM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


I already assumed
That we're in the felony room
But I ain't a judge, you don't have to be nice to me
posted by jonmc at 7:55 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


That came out bitchier than I meant it to, responding to a fairly funny comment. Sorry, the straightener.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:02 PM on June 30, 2008


Only Scalia could pull some punk as fuck shit like that off, anyway.
posted by The Straightener at 8:13 PM on June 30, 2008


54 Specifically, the defendant had allegedly referred to the witness as "a snitch bitch ho[]" Id. at 859 n.1.

55Id.

56Id.

57Id.

This article is fucking amazing.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 8:25 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Since the misquote corresponds to what is on the official Dylan website, it's very possible that a clerk "corrected" the lyric to make it wrong after Roberts had initially remembered it correctly. (Funny how an attempts at accuracy can backfire like that.) The reverse may also be true. Either way, I've definitely noticed a decent number of conservatives who really, really like Bob Dylan.

Beyond that: people with powerful, secure jobs are free to exhibit bits of quirk. Yay.

I'm more pleased when people quote "The Hunting of the Snark."

It's also fun when judges quote Billy Madison.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:37 PM on June 30, 2008


Beware !
I bear more grudges
Than lonely high court judges
When you sleep
I will creep
Into your thoughts
Like a bad debt
That you can't pay
Take the easy way
And give in
Yeah, and let me in
Oh, let me in

IT'S WAR
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:01 PM on June 30, 2008


*yawn* Wake me when they quote Sir Mixalot.
posted by Sam.Burdick at 9:06 PM on June 30, 2008


I guess this would be the place to point out that to the best of my knowledge, the only protest song that actually changed the law would be Sammy Hagar's I Can't Drive 55.
posted by sourwookie at 9:07 PM on June 30, 2008


The judge he holds a grudge, he's gonna call on you
But he's badly built and he walks on stilts
Watch out he don't fall on you...
posted by Rangeboy at 9:25 PM on June 30, 2008


Go justice
It's your birthday
We goin' to party like it's your birthday
We goin' original like it's your birthday
And you know we know you ain't liberal
'cause it's not your birthday
posted by ryoshu at 9:49 PM on June 30, 2008


yhbc writes "Seriously though, Roberts couldn't win this one. If he'd quoted the song correctly, there would have been all sorts of hell for him using 'ain't' at all"

No, I don't think so. Anyone who thinks he wouldn't understand grammar simply by using the word "ain't" in a quote isn't fit to make the criticism. If you're quoting Bob Dylan, it's acceptable even to prescriptivists to quote him in his entirety, but I'm not sure it would be as acceptable to correct the grammar of any poet.

Well, to be pedantic, anyway.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:42 PM on June 30, 2008


Here Comes the Judge.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:37 PM on June 30, 2008


See also U.S. v. Abner, 825 F.2d 835 (5th Cir. 1987), the so-called "Talking Heads" decision. No explicit quotes from David Byrne et al. but many oblique references in the text of the opinion.
posted by letourneau at 4:13 AM on July 1, 2008


Bob Dylan is not rock. It's not even music.
posted by Eideteker at 5:00 AM on July 1, 2008


Why, thank you, Eideteker! What an enlightening comment! And, hey, who could argue with you? That is to say, who would bother?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:18 AM on July 1, 2008


What surprises me is that such a common phrase is attributed to someone in particular. People use it all the time (even in other countries/languages) without it necessarily mean they are quoting Dylan. Following the line of thought from the RS article, Dick Cheney must have quoted the Rolling Stones thousands of times by saying "pleased to meet you..."
posted by micayetoca at 6:55 AM on July 1, 2008


Dick Cheney must have quoted the Rolling Stones thousands of times by saying "pleased to meet you..."

Um, mica, you're forgetting one important point: Cheney IS the devil. So, whenever he says that, he isn't quoting someone else, merely quoting himself.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:07 AM on July 1, 2008


What surprises me is that such a common phrase is attributed to someone in particular. People use it all the time (even in other countries/languages) without it necessarily mean they are quoting Dylan.

Cites, please? And no, I don't accept "everybody knows that," because I don't know it, and I don't believe it. My presumption is that anyone saying it is quoting Dylan. I'm certainly willing to be convinced otherwise. By cites.
posted by languagehat at 7:12 AM on July 1, 2008


flapjax: I think that was mica's point.
posted by GatorDavid at 7:13 AM on July 1, 2008


Well...you could suggest that an earlier source for the idea could be Marx. "Workers have nothing to lose but their chains....Workers of the world, unite!"'* does suggest the same idea. That is, because the workers have nothing of value they should feel free to do as they please, including starting a revolution.

Now, I make no claim that Marx was first or that Dylan got the idea from him, but I think the general idea and even the particular phrasing predates Dylan.

* This is a straightforward translation from the original German, and the Manifesto was widely translated and distributed: Die Proletarier haben nichts in ihr zu verlieren als ihre Ketten. Sie haben eine Welt zu gewinnen. Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!
posted by jedicus at 7:33 AM on July 1, 2008


Cites, please? And no, I don't accept "everybody knows that," because I don't know it, and I don't believe it. My presumption is that anyone saying it is quoting Dylan. I'm certainly willing to be convinced otherwise. By cites.

Here. That link should go the the results in Google of "nao tem nada, nao tem nada a perder", as you can see, there are a bunch of results, only a few mention Dylan and most of the results are from places that are unlikely to be quoting him.

And I want to note that I'm not really trying to defend my point, but I felt it was kinda rude not to respond to you. I do feel the phrase is very common and I'm sure I've heard people who I'm pretty sure have never heard Dylan saying Spanish and Portuguese equivalents. Perhaps the point could be made that anyone saying it in the US has to be quoting Dylan, because of the ubiquity of the song.
posted by micayetoca at 7:33 AM on July 1, 2008


Well, I see two possibilities:

1) It happens to be a saying in Portuguese that predates Dylan. Quite possible.

2) The Portuguese-speakers are quoting Dylan too. I have no way of knowing, but Dylan is a worldwide phenomenon and that's one of his most famous lines.

In any case, even if 1) is true, it only holds for Portuguese. To compare a fairly complex line like Dylan's to "pleased to meet you" is silly; it's not unique enough to exclude coincidence, but it's certainly not banal enough to be surprised that "such a common phrase is attributed to someone in particular."
posted by languagehat at 7:41 AM on July 1, 2008


It's certainly not a "Portuguese thing". The one case I had in mind when I wrote it was a fairly common line upthread was and old campesino (peasant? farmer?) from Apure I saw interviewed on TV, speaking about farm invasions. While you are absolutely right that Dylan is a worldwide phenomenon, I assure you in rural Venezuela it would be easier to find people who has never heard of him, than people who would be quoting him.

I am thirty, a musician, and I wouldn't have recognized the phrase as a line from Dylan, and I am sure I've heard it many times. I am actually quite surprised that someone would not accept the idea that the idea behind the phrase is quite simple and that the phrase is common use. But hey, perhaps it's only commonly used around here. There's even a whole sociology essay hidden somewhere there.
posted by micayetoca at 8:04 AM on July 1, 2008


Well, languagehat, I'd certainly argue that it's obvious enough to have been coined many times by various people not knowledgable of prior art. I mean it's not quite "colorless green ideas sleep furiously": beside being repetitive and a relatively simple statement of logic ("if AX then AY"), it's a pretty goddamn accurate descriptor of the human condition.

I'm not sure "banal" is the word I'd use, but "coincidence" seems a bit over the top as well. It just sounds like something Johan Cruyff would say off the cuff without even thinking.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:41 AM on July 1, 2008


knowledgable of knowledgeable about
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:43 AM on July 1, 2008


Cuando no tiene nada, tu tiene nada para perdir.
-J.L. Borges, 1937.*








Warning: May be a total lie.
posted by Mister_A at 8:44 AM on July 1, 2008


I now need to rededicate my efforts to become a federal judge, just so I can have an excuse to misquote Exodus in my footnotes:

"In this instance the court found it best to recognize that everyone was doing the toxic waltz, kicking their friends in the heads, and having a ball, and thus it becomes necessary to inform those present that they needed to get up off their asses and toxic waltz, because if you hit the floor, you can always crawl."
posted by quin at 8:46 AM on July 1, 2008


This is pretty ironic, given that the role of the judge in Bob Dylan's music is pretty much that of an evildoer and power abuser. Bob Dylan does not seem to think much of John Roberts or his profession. See, e.g. "Seven Curses" (loving daughter gives her innocence to a judge to save her father's life after he steals a horse, but judge hangs the father anyway after he has his way with the daughter); "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" (spoiled rich son absent-mindedly kills poor black woman and the judge lets him off with a six month sentence, showing that the equality that the court system seems to promise -- "that even the nobles get properly handled / Once that the cops have chased after and caught 'em / And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom" -- is all a lie); "Percy's Song" (author's friend is accused of killing four with his car; author goes to defend his friend's character to the judge, but the judge is haughty, immovable, and without mercy, and sentences friend to 99 years in jail even though the accident "could happen to anyone"); "Hurricane" (Heavyweight boxer Ruben carter is innocently framed and jailed for a murder he didn't commit: "The trial was a big circus, he never had a chance. The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums, / To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum . . . / To see him obviously framed / Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land / Where justice is a game."); see also "Jokerman" ("False-hearted judges dying in the webs that they spin,/ Only a matter of time 'til night comes steppin' in."). But see this dude (lawyer who thinks he can cobble together a legal weltanschauung from Dylan lyrics but seems willfully obtuse to the skeptical eye that those lyrics actually cast on the law and the legal profession); me (lawyer who likes Dylan, regardless).
posted by onlyconnect at 10:48 AM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


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