D.C. Circuit Diagrams a Sentence,

right there on p. 6 of today's U.S. v. Villanueva-Sotelo. Not sure this adds much, especially given that -- according to the court -- "[i]n the end, this grammatical observation is beside the point given that the parties, as well as relevant case law ..., are best understood as using the word 'modify' more loosely" than how it is understood "from a grammatical point of view." Still, this struck me as noteworthy. Plus the case creates a circuit split, so maybe sentence diagramming may come to the Supreme Court.

Hat tip: How Appealing.

Libertarian1 (mail):
THE COURT: So if the defendant picked a
number out of the air and it was [your]
number, he’s guilty, but if he picked a number
out of the air and [Immigration and Customs
Enforcement] hasn’t assigned it to anybody,
he’s not guilty?

[PROSECUTOR]: That’s correct.

In general I tend to be a pretty strict law and order guy (and IANAA) but common sense appears to be on the side of the majority opinion. Anyway you wish to modify the relevant statute he should be guilty of forgery but not of stealing an identity.
2.15.2008 5:52pm
Either the judges on that court have never played Boggle, or they failed to [sic] "Boogle."
2.15.2008 5:58pm
Whoops, this was for the demon teddy bear post.
2.15.2008 6:01pm
Bill Dyer (mail) (www):
Not just sentence structure, but typography and formatting, can be significant! See, e.g., Broad v. Rockwell Int'l Corp., 642 F.2d 929, 954-55 &n.24 (5th Cir.)(en banc), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 965 (1981):

Broad and the defendants have argued vigorously the question whether the last phrase in clause (e) of Section 13.01 modifies the entire section, or only clause (e). We agree with the defendants that under the most logical reading of Section 13.01, the phrase “provided that such action shall not adversely affect the interests of the holders of any of the Debentures” logically modifies only clause (e)....

The appended footnote reads (ellipsis by the Fifth Circuit):

Clause (e) is as close to being an “open-ended” provision as anything in the Indenture; it would only make sense to limit the broad grant of the power to “make such provisions ... as may be necessary or desirable” to those situations in which the interests of the holders of Debentures would not be adversely affected, lest the issuer's and Trustee's rights become so vague and unlimited as to render the entire contract unenforceable. The fact that this phrase is appended to the end of clause (e), rather than being set out after clauses (a) through (e) on a separate line beginning at the left margin, is also indicative of an intent that the phrase modify only clause (e). Further, elsewhere in the document, where the context clearly indicates that modifying phrases are intended to apply to several sequentially numbered clauses, those phrases are set out on separate line which begins at the left margin, or in introductory segments that precede all of the numbered clauses.

This is exactly the sort of detail that big-firm corporate securities associates were supposed to obsess over, and consistently get right, during their marathon sessions back in olden days "at the printer" before major documents like an indenture for publicly traded convertible debentures was released. And it may be worth noting that the judge who authored this 24/1 opinion for the en banc Fifth Circuit, Hon. Carolyn King (then "Randall," with a previous married name), was a corporate securities lawyer before being named to the bench.
2.15.2008 7:45pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
As Jason Stanley has observed, a primer on quantifier domain restriction might be more useful.
2.15.2008 8:41pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Wouldn't everything be much clearer if the court required Congress to diagram their own sentences?
2.15.2008 9:07pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
I keep hoping that the USSC will ask for the Second Amendment to be diagrammed at oral argument, to explain the absolute adjective construction.

A well-regulated necessary
to security
the of state
a free

right shall (not) be infringed
the keep
to and arms
2.16.2008 11:55am
Evelyn Marie Blaine (mail):
Why is the D.C. circuit using this ridiculous sort of diagram, and not a proper tree diagram, as has been universal in serious linguistics for three or four decades?
2.16.2008 9:01pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Evelyn Marie Blaine: Diagramming sentences was a skill universally taught in grammar schools, whereas serious linguistics was not. You might as well wonder why American dictionaries don't use the IPA.
2.17.2008 10:54am
hsfd (mail):
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2.19.2008 2:12am