Humor and Wit in Supreme Court Opinions:

Can you think of deliberately amusing or witty -- in the sense of trying to get the reader to smile, even if not to guffaw -- passages from Supreme Court opinions? Here's one that I remember, from Justice Stevens' concurrence in Widmar v. Vincent (1980) (paragraph break added):

Because every university's resources are limited, an educational institution must routinely make decisions concerning the use of the time and space that is available for extracurricular activities. In my judgment, it is both necessary and appropriate for those decisions to evaluate the content of a proposed student activity.

I should think it obvious, for example, that if two groups of 25 students requested the use of a room at a particular time -- one to view Mickey Mouse cartoons and the other to rehearse an amateur performance of Hamlet -- the First Amendment would not require that the room he reserved for the group that submitted its application first. Nor do I see why a university should have to establish a "compelling state interest" to defend its decision to permit one group to use the facility and not the other. In my opinion, a university should be allowed to decide for itself whether a program that illuminates the genius of Walt Disney should be given precedence over one that may duplicate material adequately covered in the classroom.

I take it that Justice Stevens isn't just trying to provide an illustration of a permissible content-based restriction; rather, the surprising outcome of the Mickey Mouse vs. Hamlet comparison, under which Mickey comes out the winner, is meant as a little throwaway element of levity. Again, not occasion for belly laughs, but I think it qualifies as humor.

Please post other such examples to the thread, but please follow these rules:

  1. Please limit yourself to opinions in Supreme Court cases.

  2. Please limit yourself to quotes that are funny or at least amusing; if they're serious, it doesn't matter how eloquent they may be. Sarcasm is a hard case, because it is a form of wit and has some connections to humor; but I'd say that not all sarcasm qualifies, and the point must be to get at least some readers to crack something of a smile.

  3. Please check other comments first, to make sure that you aren't duplicating something that someone else has already posted.

  4. Please include the literal quotes (for instance, from the materials on findlaw), rather than just working from vague memories.

Also, please feel free to let others who might be interested know about this -- I'd like to get as comprehensive a list as possible. Thanks!