Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chief Justice Roberts

It takes a thoughtful judge to write judicial opinions that read like good prose. It takes a really bright judge to use devices like puns and antimetaboles to make a point clear.

But only a Chief Justice could have the sheer elegance to play on Latin words. Today, in criticizing what he considers to be a revisionist interpretation of death penalty law, the Chief Justice wrote:

Still, perhaps there is no reason to be unduly glum. After all, today the author of a dissent issued in 1988 writes two majority opinions concluding that the views expressed in that dissent actually represented "clearly established" federal law at that time. So there is hope yet for the views expressed in this dissent, not simply down the road, but tunc pro nunc. Encouraged by the majority's determination that the future can change the past, I respectfully dissent.

Tunc pro nunc? All you latin scholars out there are scratching your heads: isn't it supposed to be "nunc pro tunc," now for then?

But that's the play on words. Roberts says "then for now" on purpose, satirizing the majority's reasoning as ad hoc.

Let's all form our own opinions about the Chief Justice. We're all entitled to agree or disagree with him at will. But, dang, there aren't many smarter people out there.

(h/t Bench Memos)

1 comment:

Mark said...

Orin Kerr posted on this same passage at Volokh, including a translation of tunc pro nunc, without catching the play on words. So I'm pretty sure that makes you smarter than him.