Welcome to Law.com’s Midweek Recess, in which we round up some tasty tidbits from the week’s legal news cycle. We’ll be here every Wednesday, so grab a cup of coffee and take a little break. It’s all downhill to the weekend from here.
Life’s Tough. Get a Helmet - It’s graduation season, but the U.S. Supreme Court seems disinclined to get involved in the festivities. Specifically, this week the court declined to wade into a controversy over the use of a Christian church as a venue for high school commencement ceremonies in Brookfield, Wisc. An en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the objectors, finding that the decision to hold the events at the church was “religiously coercive.” The school district appealed to the Supreme Court to review the case or order reconsideration in light of its recent ruling approving prayer in town meetings.
The court denied cert and the Seventh Circuit ruling will stand, but this did not sit well with Justice Antonin Scalia, who wants people to know that their personal aversion to attending a graduation in a church is neither his nor the founders’ problem. In a dissent from the denial of certiorari, he wrote that the attendees’ discomfort in being in a religious setting didn’t rise to the level of an Establishment Clause violation, commenting: “It is perhaps the job of school officials to prevent hurt feelings at school events. But that is decidedly not the job of the Constitution.”
The justice did recognize that some people are made uncomfortable by religious activity in public spaces, and he’d like them to know that while he understands their feelings, such experiences are a normal inconvenience of public life. “I can understand that attitude: It parallels my own toward the playing in public of rock music or Stravinsky,” he, er, sympathized. “And I too am especially annoyed when the intrusion upon my inner peace occurs while I am part of a captive audience, as on a municipal bus or in the waiting room of a public agency.” Apparently Scalia has to has to wait in line at the DMV just like the rest of us, and is not a fan of the musak. And, D.C. readers: Keep an eye out for the justice on your bus commute — and turn that Stravinsky down, would you?
Smarty Pants - Regardless of what we think about that rock music = public displays of religion analogy, we freely admit that Justice Scalia is a great writer. But don’t take our word for it: A recent textual data analysis reveals that he uses the most complex vocabulary of any current justice, and even surpasses Shakespeare. In Slate’s View From Chicago column, University of Chicago law professors Eric Posner and Adam Chilton, along with research assistant Kevin Jiang, report on the results from a computer program that counts the number of unique words in a text of a given size. The program was originally used by data scientist Matt Daniels to compare the lyrics of 85 rap artists. Posner, Chilton and Jiang decided to pit three of those rappers against the current high court bench and five historically famous justices — and Shakespeare, for good measure. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who they authors say is “our idea of a bad writer,” scores the lowest of any current justice. Then again, maybe we should take this whole thing with a grain of salt: Ranked with Kennedy and his mighty swing vote at the lowest end of the scores was Chief Justice John Marshall, who was bested by the rapper DMX.
Sisterly Concerns - A group of nuns in Illinois is launching a legal fight over an intrusion upon their peaceful space, in the form of the music (and, um, general ambiance) from a nearby strip club. The Sisters of St. Charles are suing Club Allure Chicago, alleging violation of a state law that mandates a 1,000-foot buffer zone between places of worship and adult entertainment establishments. The nuns’ complaint states that the “pulsating and rhythmic staccato-beat noise and flashing neon and or strobe lights,” from the strip club disturb the sisters while they are praying. Oh, and there’s also the “public violence, drunkenness and litter, including empty whiskey and beer bottles, discarded contraceptive packages and products and even used condoms” around the facility. Club Allure’s manager defended his employees in an interview, saying that the dancers “aren’t monsters. They’re daughters; they’re mothers, and some of them are Catholics, too.” Leaving aside the issue of how nuns might feel about a group of Catholic women working in a strip joint, let’s focus on the opportunity here: Turning this whole situation into Sister Act III! Whoopie Goldberg/Dolores Van Cartier can mediate between the aggrieved nuns and the dancers! There will be a massive singing/dance number at the end, complete with organ! The judge will have a solo!! It’s going to be amazing.
Girls Rule - Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are behind us, but a new study shows that judges may carry their roles as parents — specifically, as parents of daughters — into the courtroom. Maya Sen, a political scientist at the University of Rochester, and Adam Glynn, a government professor at Harvard, reviewed data on the families of 224 federal appeals court judges and 990 cases involving gender issues that were decided by those judges. The study showed that having at least one daughter corresponded to a 7 percent increase in the proportion of cases in which a judge will rule in favor of women’s rights in a gender-related case. The addition of another daughter didn’t change that rate, but for judges who have an only child that is a daughter instead of a son, the increase is 16 percent.
Sen told The New York Times that the results bolster the theory that, in addition to the factors of law and ideology, judicial decision-making is influenced by a judge’s personal experience. By parenting daughters, Sen said, “judges learn about what it’s like to be a woman, perhaps a young woman, who might have to deal with issues like equity in terms of pay, university admissions or taking care of children.”