Sometimes I get confused - am I doing binge writing and day drinking, or have I misplaced my modifiers? In this case, I should probably have waited for "The Cocktail Hour" before considering this topic for a blog. If you have gotten this far, a word of caution. A good stiff belt is probably in order. I offer a primer:
How NOT to Read Supreme Court Opinions
Hop Onto Facebook and Debate THAT "Friend"
Come on, really? What do these discussions usually degenerate into? I copy and paste something, you copy and paste something and then we call each other (and our respective essay writers) names. I had barely finished reading the moments-old majority opinion of a recent case when the out-of-breath political writer for some on-line rag had written "What You Need To Know" about it. Set aside the presumption of such a headline. How much thought did he put into the carefully-crafted legal language? Zero. How do I know he wrote the post? Someone had copied and pasted it to FB, then declared life as we know it to be over.
Read the Digested Heading
Let's say you are a cricket fan. Well... Bad example. Let's say you are a college basketball fan - a Syracuse University alum, for example. It is Tournament Time, and the Orange have been selected. Do you (a) go onto ESPN and watch the highlights, or (b) Traeger some wings, crack open a cold one, tune in and suffer along with the ebb and flow of the game? Unless you have gone full contrarian, I'll bet you chose (b). Skip the digest, except to see who wrote, and on what side.
Assign Sides or Political Identities
I'm sitting in law school on the campus of Syracuse University, September 1986. I am in the first moments of my 1L Con Law class and the professor gets all The Paper Chase on us. If you don't understand the reference - "You are law students. You no longer have an excuse for classifying Supreme Court justices as conservative or liberal in their opinions."
"Aha!" (you say). "Now that's utter bullshit!" (you say).
Collins v. Virginia, decided in May 2018. It was a search and seizure case, a technical one. It limited searches by police officers, and drew some fairly fine distinctions on order to do so. Justice Sotomayor wrote it. No surprise there, right? Well, four of the five "conservative" justices joined the opinion.
It isn't about conservative v. liberal. Look for the process they undertake to arrive at their conclusion. Do they start with the law and follow it to the end, even if "the little guy" loses? Do they start with what they think is an equitable result and reason their way there? A little of both?
That's actually the fun part of reading opinions.
Take Sides and then Read Only the Opinion That Agrees With You
I was a guest in a Maine Law School class, visiting my soon-to-be lawyer daughter. The professor uttered what I consider the most basic truth about legal reasoning, to wit:
"When you cite to authority, it may just mean you've found someone who agrees with you, but is also wrong."
A recent FB (I admit it) exchange illustrates the point. It was the Cake case, I think, where the majority opinion by retiring Justice Kennedy spoke for seven members of the Court. A good and gifted friend suggested that Justice Ginsburg's dissent was more to his liking.
Because the result she sought agreed with his wishes.
Tune into (Fill in Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc.) and Repeat Whatever You Hear
I just finished reading a book called "Amusing Ourselves to Death." The underlying premise of the book is that Television - especially television news - relies heavily on its entertainment value at the expense of conveying (or evaluating) information important to a culture. He says, in the concluding pages, that Cheers (for example) does far less damage to American society than 60 Minutes (for example) because while the goal of both is to entertain, only the former bills itself so.
Who can argue with that?
But I've done enough damage for one day. Unfortunately I have not prolonged my (or your) agony long enough for the sun to pass the yard arm. But, what would Jimmy Buffet do?