Monday, April 28, 2008

People v. Lewis (Cal. Supreme Court - April 28, 2008)

It's been a busy m*****f***ing month. By which I do not mean that it's been busy for me personally, though assuredly it has. No, what I mean is this: Lately, the California Supreme Court has been really busy using the word "motherfucker".

How busy, you ask? How about three different opinions in less than 40 days. That's a lot of m*****f***ing.

First there was People v. Gay back on March 20th. Justice Baxter graced us with "motherfucking" in that one (check out page 7). Then there was In re Lawley on March 24th. Though Justice Werdegar coyly abbreviates the term there as "m__________r".

Then, today, there's People v. Lewis. In which you need only read the first six of Justice Kennard's 156 (!) page opinion before you see the phrase "mother fucker".

Who knew the California Supreme Court would use this phrase even more frequently than I do? :-)

Three other tangential points. Because who can get enough of m_____f___ing?

First, can't we standardize this usage? During the last 40 days, Justice Baxter writes the phrase as one word, Justice Kennard writes it as two words, and Justice Werdegar edits it. Seems to me that we should have a set usage. Profanity Bluebook, anyone?

For what it's worth, the one word version seems to be more prevalent than the two word version. At least in the California Supreme Court during the past 18 years (which was all I checked), with a ratio of 3:2. So maybe that should be our default. Though, interestingly, the uses vary not only by individual (Justices Chin and Brown, for example, only used the one word version), but also by opinion: Chief Justice George, for example, used one word thrice during this period (in 1999, 2004 and 2005), but also used the two word version as well (in 2005). And Justices Baxter and Kennard similarly varied their usage. Even Justice Werdegar changes style; she doesn't have a problem spelling it out in 2004, but in 2008 she edits it. Interesting stuff!

Second, what accounts for all this swearing? You guessed it. Quotes in death penalty cases. Of the 16 times I saw this term used, every case (save one) was a death penalty case. The sole exception was an employment discrimination case. So chalk up another downside to automatic California Supreme Court review in death penalty cases: Foul language.

Third, who's the biggest potty mouth of them all (at least in terms of this particular word)? Well, as of today, at least during the period that I reviewed, the winner and new champion is . . . Justice Kennard! She used that phrase back in 1995, 2004, 2005 (two words), 2006, and now 2008. So her five times during this period edges out Chief Justice George, with whom she was previously tied at four.


Fear not, Justice Kennard: An appropriately shaped trophy is not on its way.