Friday, January 02, 2009

The Supreme Court's Basketball Games

I'm surprised none of the legal bloggers have picked up on this hilarious essay (via Andrew Gelman). It's apparently from a McSweeney's book; it's by Jim Stallard, and is titled, "No Justice, No Foul: Everything You Didn't Know That You Were Afraid To Know About the Supreme Court."

The author's obviously tongue-in-cheek thesis: That all of the Supreme Court's 5-4 decisions are decided on the basketball court. The essay consists of elaborate and laugh-out-loud descriptions of the basketball games by which Earl Warren, Harry Blackmun, etc. won this or that controversial decision.

The opening paragraphs:
Whenever I hear some historian on PBS prattling about the Supreme Court, I have to step outside for air. I know it's a matter of seconds before the stock phrases -- judicial review, legal precedent, activist court -- will start rolling out, and I'll feel my blood coming to a boil as I hear the scamming of yet another generation.

Are you sitting down? Everything you were taught about the Supreme Court and its decisions is bunk. For most of the 19th Century and all of the 20th, our biggest, most far-reaching legal decisions have been decided not by careful examination of facts and reference to precedent but by contests of game and sport between the justices. The games varied through the years -- cribbage, chess, horseshoes, darts -- even a brief, disastrous flirtation with polo. (Now do you understand Plessy v. Ferguson?) But ever since 1923, basketball has been the only game, and as the years rolled by and the decisions came down, the whole thing has settled nicely into place.
* * *
Holmes brought the idea back to Washington and pitched it to Chief Justice Taft. The corpulent chief had been lobbying for Greco-Roman wrestling, but he was starting to realize none of his colleagues would go for a sport in which they might be killed. (The Fatty Arbuckle incident was fresh on everyone's minds). Taft finally agreed that basketball offered a superior form of jurisprudence.
Read the whole thing.


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