Certiorari Noir
November 4, 2008 10:49 AM   Subscribe

"Officer Sean Devlin, Narcotics Strike Force, was working the morning shift. Undercover surveillance. The neighborhood? Tough as a threedollar steak. Devlin knew. Five years on the beat, nine months with the Strike Force. He’d made fifteen, twenty drug busts in the neighborhood." Dashiell Hammett? Raymond Chandler? Nope. Chief Justice John Roberts (pdf).
posted by Knappster (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Better than when Clarence Thomas writes the deciding opinion and it's just all furry slash fic.
posted by Damn That Television at 11:00 AM on November 4, 2008 [12 favorites]

Cute, Justice Roberts. I see what you did there.
posted by cimbrog at 11:02 AM on November 4, 2008

John Roberts was widely acknowledged to be one of the best brief writers in the country long before he was nominated. It's nice to see him exercise some of those powers from the bench. And in case anything thinks he's being non-serious, I challenge you to find a more succinct statement of the facts in a criminal case than the first two paragraphs of that opinion.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:03 AM on November 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

"I see you're a little...tied up, at the moment?" said Stone Cold Steve Austin to the naked and bound Sephiroth-Fur. The professional wrestler grinned, and pulled out his fiendishly modified Bedazzler as he stalked forward. "Perhaps now I'll finally have a chance to show you just what original intent really means."
posted by Damn That Television at 11:03 AM on November 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't read a Supreme Court decision since college, which is wrong for a few reasons not the least of which is that they can be fucking hilarious. Much better than those legal briefs I covered in that critical race theory class a few years ago.
posted by mrmojoflying at 11:22 AM on November 4, 2008

He writes like Robert Evans talks, wow!
posted by Smedleyman at 11:33 AM on November 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: Tough as a three-dollar steak.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:38 AM on November 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I challenge you to find a more succinct statement of the facts in a criminal case than the first two paragraphs of that opinion.

Just the facts, Judge.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:02 PM on November 4, 2008

Supreme Court decisions... can be fucking hilarious.

Funny thing about lifetime appointments: if you got nothing to lose, you can do whatever the hell you want.

I mean, who's gonna stop him?
posted by rokusan at 12:02 PM on November 4, 2008

I don't think it's such a great thing. When you're good at what you do, the work speaks for itself; you don't need to be showy or call attention to yourself; I tend to be suspicious of people who feel the need to do so.

But also, something like this makes me wonder (1) what perspective or detail is being discarded or manipulated for the sake of style; (2) how much time and effort is given to presentation as opposed to real content; and (3) how one can use something like crime fiction as a means to present a case without necessary employing its limited assumptions to consider a case. The brief passage quoted above by itself re-frames the case and invests it with the values of a fictional genre and would seem to affect how the reader judges the case. It seems akin to allowing an attorney to underlay witness testimony with a John Williams or Bernard Herrmann score. Or having a plastic surgeon whose work is influenced by cubism.

Not that I'm not fun or anything, but when it comes to people deciding the fate of others, particularly on a large scale, I'd rather they focus on the law and not a punchline.
posted by troybob at 12:59 PM on November 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

troybob: "Not that I'm not fun or anything, but when it comes to people deciding the fate of others, particularly on a large scale, I'd rather they focus on the law and not a punchline."

The Chief Justice wasn't deciding anyone's fate - he was complaining that he didn't get to decide anyone's fate. The court denied certiorari, meaning it elected not to decide the case. Roberts here was dissenting from the denial of cert, arguing that the court should have taken the case.
posted by dilettanti at 1:31 PM on November 4, 2008

troybob: what you're looking at here is a dissent from a denial for certiorari, which means that the full facts of the case itself were almost certainly laid out in the actual denial by the majority, if they were laid out anywhere (denials of cert. are often simply a one line statement of such denial without further information). Any detailed facts anyone would want to gather on the subject would be easily obtainable from the records in the courts below (which I GUARANTEE you the Chief Justice received and read over carefully before making his decision to dissent in this case), and need not be reiterated in every Supreme Court denial for certiorari. The Chief Justice's style is not much akin at all to either of your comparisons.
posted by Inkoate at 1:31 PM on November 4, 2008

Roberts's writing style is cute, but his contention that an exchange of cash for a nondescript "small object" rises to the level of probable cause sufficient to make an arrest is wrong, wrong, wrong.

I found Criminal Procedure appalling in regard to the extent to which it chronicled the steady erosion of Fourth Amendment rights in the United States--remember that at one time in this country you couldn't be arrested, or have your person or property searched, absent a warrant signed by a judge. Then the warrant requirement was largely disposed of, with the proviso that the level of probable cause necessary to justify a search or seizure be equivalent to that necessary to obtain a warrant. The facts described in the case above reflect the current state of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence: probable cause is perilously close to a de facto 'informed hunch' or 'educated guess' standard. Because better safe than sorry, we have to get the drugs off the streets, if you're not guilty then no harm done, etc.

Nice to see the Court get one right, even if it's only a denial of cert.
posted by Makoto at 2:27 PM on November 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

Someone read way too much Ellroy before filing his briefs.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:18 PM on November 4, 2008

What? No Vic Mackie?
posted by MikeMc at 10:11 PM on November 4, 2008

No matter how glibly he phrases it, Roberts can't disguise just how profoundly authoritarian his legal philosophy is.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
This used to be perhaps the most substantive right enumerated in the Constitutuion, but today, thanks to feckless power-worshiping toadies like Roberts, it's almost wholly irrelevant . The language couldn't be more removed from the reality of today. The authors of the Fourth Amendment don't even seem to consider the possibility of search and seizure without a warrant. They envisioned a nation of laws, and certainly not a nation of arbitrary and lawless exercise of state power where public officials like Roberts or Gonzales can mock requests that people's most basic legal rights be respected.

This dissent is just another example of the mindset that allows government spying in open violation of the most basic laws and principles of the nation, that allows torture and indefinite detention without trial. What Roberts is basically saying here is that a warrant is unnecessary, not because a criminal act is materially evident, but because the neighborhood is poor and contains undesirables, and the suspect acted all shifty like. To top it all off, Roberts essentially argues that this is just because it's best to defer to the wisdom of the hard-boiled beat cop.

If Roberts wants to write detective pulps, he should get his ass off the bench.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:50 PM on November 5, 2008

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