Entertaining legal opinions

Monday, July 26, 2010 | 9:00 AM

Judicial opinions in common law countries, like the United States, clarify and refine the law of the land. They consider weighty issues, weigh conflicting requirements and carry much weight among all who read them. Here are some opinions for your summer reading.


Rimes v. Curb Records, Inc., 2001 the opinion is written as a series of songs to be sung to tunes by LeAnn Rimes. It starts:
LeAnn Rimes
A very rich and famous star
Wasn't so rich in times afar
But what a talent she had!

Glazner v. Glazner, 2003 illustrates one of the arguments using an imagined dialog between spouses (page 1223).
Jim: Honey, I've been thinking, we ought to move to Alabama.
Liz: But Sweetheart, I thought you liked living in Colorado.
...
Liz: You'll look so good in jailhouse stripes, my Love. When do we move?

Commonwealth v. Robin, 1966 the case was about banning "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller. Justice Musmanno, in his dissent (starting at page 73), is particularly colorful. E.g.,: "Cancer" is not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity. And in the center of all this waste and stench, besmearing himself with its foulest defilement, splashes, leaps, cavorts and wallows a bifurcated specimen that responds to the name of Henry Miller.

Webster v. Blue Ship Tea Room, Inc., 1964 the opinion includes a page-long discussion of recipes & history of chowder starting with (page 424): Chowder is an ancient dish preexisting even "the appetites of our seamen and fishermen." It was perhaps the common ancestor of the "more refined cream soups, purees, and bisques."

Pennsylvania v. Dunlap, 2008 the opinion starts in the hard-boiled detective style: Officer Sean Devlin, Narcotics Strike Force, was working the morning shift. Undercover surveillance. The neighborhood? Tough as a three-dollar steak. Devlin knew. Five years on the beat, nine months with the Strike Force. He'd made fifteen, twenty drug busts in the neighborhood.

Fisher v. Lowe, 1983 the entire opinion is in verse and starts:
We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.
A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree's behest;

Busch v. Busch, 1999 also in verse, it starts with:
Conrad Busch filed a timely appeal, 
trying to avoid a pre-marital deal
which says appellee need not pay him support;
he brings his case, properly, before this Court.

Anderson Greenwood & Co. v. NLRB, 1979 two of the relevant precedents were Wire v. NLRB and Tire v. NLRB, an opportunity to break forth in verse the judges did not miss (page 323). E.g.,
Our decision in Robbins Tire,
Interpreting Congresses' reported desires,
Exposed workers to their bosses' ire.
The High Court, avoiding this sticky quagmire,

US v. Ramirez-Lopez, 2003 Judge Kozinski, in his dissent, illustrates his argument using a good-news/bad-news dialog between the defendant and his attorney (page 1159). E.g.,
Lawyer: Juan, I have good news and bad news.
Ramirez-Lopez: OK, I'm ready. Give me the bad news first.
...
Lawyer: Due process. We're very proud of it.

US v. Syufy Enterprises, 1990 this case was about movie theatres in Las Vegas. Judge Kozinski includes the names of over 200 movies into his opinion. If you are a movie buff, challenge yourself and see how many you can find! You can see them marked out here.


There are many more such gems. Now that everyone can read US opinions, you can find some yourself. Happy hunting!

Posted by Anurag Acharya, Distinguished Engineer