The final weeks of the 2014-2015 Supreme Court term brought us a bumper crop of quotable lines from the ever-cantankerous Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia has never been shy on the bench, but as he approaches the end of his third decade on the court, he is letting loose to a degree that is surprising even for him. Some say the Ronald Reagan appointee may even be growing a touch unhinged.
In his dissents last week to the same-sex marriage and Obamacare rulings, Justice Scalia was in rare form. The case for gay marriage offered by Justice Kennedy is “lacking even a thin veneer of law,” he wrote. “I would hide my head in a bag,” he declared, if he ever joined an opinion as weak as Justice Kennedy’s. “The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”
This culinary metaphor followed up one that provoked hilarity on social media a day earlier in the case upholding the health-insurance subsidy scheme in Obamacare. Chief Justice John Roberts’ rationale for resisting the challengers’ claims, Justice Scalia charged, was “pure applesauce.” The only way the majority could conclude the subsidies were kosher was through “interpretive jiggery-pokery,” a late-19th-century term meaning “deceitful or dishonest behavior.” The chief justice, in other words, is nothing short of a lying, cunning rogue.
This term, nobody has escaped a prick from one of Justice Scalia's barbs. Conservative Justice Samuel Alito stood accused of "text-free broadening" of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when he deigned to concur with the Court's holding in Young v. UPS, a pregnancy-discrimination case. Even Clarence Thomas, with whom the Sicilian justice concurred in 95 percent of the 5-4 rulings this term, got some abuse. In Zivotofsky v. Kerry, a separation of powers case, Justice Scalia wrote that his friend had “turn[ed] the Constitution upside-down” and envisioned “a presidency more reminiscent of [King] George III than George Washington."
Why do all the justices just stand there and take this abuse? Maybe the Other Eight are taking the civil high ground to avoid descending into intra-bench smack-talk, saving the court from looking like a bunch of buffoons to the American public. Or maybe they simply lack the chops to compete with Scalia’s rhetorical flourishes. (All Justice Thomas could muster in response to Scalia's takedown of his approach to Zivotofsky was that his dissent “raises more questions than it answers.” Not the very snappiest of retorts.)
Of all the good reasons not to try to match Scalia’s crass insults jiggery for pokery or argle for bargle, the best is that you will lose. But at some point, one of the other justices will get so mad that he or she just won’t be able to take it anymore. And if words fail them while in their jurisprudential rage, they may be advised to take a cue from one of Scalia’s most recent sarcastic bouts, a concurrence in a death penalty drug case in which he ridicules Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg for “waving over their heads a ream of the most recent abolitionist studies (a superabundant genre) as though they have discovered the lost folios of Shakespeare.”
That is the ticket: No one ever penned so many biting, creative insults as William Shakespeare. Here are a few hand-selected moments of invective from the Bard’s words that may prove useful (some come directly from his plays, others from this handy insult generator):
Draw your neck out of your collar.
Degenerate and base art thou.
Thou caluminous idle-headed nut-hook!
Thou gleeking idle-headed hugger-mugger!
Thou pribbling hell-hated clack-dish!
Thou odiferous fat-kidneyed foot-licker!
Truly thou art damned, like an ill-roasted egg, all on one side.
Thou art as loathsome as a toad.
Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbunkle in my corrupted blood.
Peace, ye fat guts.
And my personal favorite:
There is no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.
Or the justices might take a line from Stephen Colbert, who responded to Scalia’s “bag in a head” insult by saying, “I could’ve sworn he was already hiding his head in a flesh-toned cinch sack."
Image credit: Wikipedia
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