Joking Justices: Supreme Court Women Funnier Than Reported

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Wednesday, 30 Oct 2013 12:31 PM

By Elliot Jager

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The Supreme Court is a funnier place than most Americans suspect.

Just how much levity the court's three women justices contribute is particularly underreported, according to a study of "gender and humor" distributed by the Social Science Research Network.

In "Too Much Frivolity, Not Enough Femininity: A Study of Gender and Humor at the U.S. Supreme Court," four academics say they spent two years listening to 80 hours of oral arguments involving 79 cases during the Supreme Court's its 2011-2012 term.

Court transcripts, they discovered, do not fully reflect how much laughter took place.

The authors insist they undertook the humor research in earnest, to show there is "a glaring and serious discrepancy occurring at the Supreme Court."

The four authors — Ryan Malphurs of Courtroom Sciences, Jaime Bochantin of DePaul University, L. Hailey Drescher of the University of Kansas, and Melissa Wallace Framer of Arizona State University — found that court stenographers fail, by 200 percent, to pick up on Ruth Bader Ginsburg's jokes.

The other two female justices' attempts at humor also are underreported — Sonia Sotomayor by 133 percent and Elena Kagan by 53 percent.

The authors say male lawyers appearing before the court appear much more comfortable cracking jokes with the justices than women attorneys do.

The study found that Justice Antonin Scalia undoubtedly is the funniest of the nine, with 136 laughter-provoking asides — 64 percent more than the transcript attributed — followed by Justice Stephen Breyer, at 93.

There were no discrepancies between the oral and stenographic record regarding Justice Clarence Thomas. He has only once spoken during oral arguments in the past seven years, but that was not during the time the authors were monitoring the court.

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'Joking Judge' Resigns To Pursue Acting, Comedy Career


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