The United States Supreme Court is one of the most prestigious positions a judge can hold, as each of the nine-member committee was hand selected by an acting President of the United States. A Supreme Court nomination is a life sentence, as Justices are given an unlimited term as a judge, opting to leave on their own terms, whether it be for the thrills of a relaxing retirement or the sweet kiss of death. Although the justices hear only 70 or so cases a year, they tend to be pretty busy, as any case worthy of Supreme Court recognition clearly has some sort of constitutional ramifications.
This information in mind, it’s important to note the Supreme Court involves a human element, and no Justice now (nor ever) has ever been perfect. Some decisions have been questionable, while others remain controversial, but some have been so bone-headingly ill-advised the justices are faced with no choice but to figuratively hang their heads in shame.
Since Justices run on a tight schedule, sometimes some hasty decisions can be made, leading to lasting impacts that are, for a lack of a better word, strange.
5. Hustler Magazine v. Falwell
As a televangelist, the rivalry between Jerry Falwell and Hustler Magazine was almost a given (for those of you unfamiliar with Hustler I would recommend NOT Google imaging that). Hustler’s founder Larry Flynt, among other things, is also a champion of first amendment rights, taking numerous cases to court to argue for the freedom of speech. In 1983, Flynt teamed up with Campari (cryptically and redundantly described only as ‘an alcoholic liquor’) to compose an ad that would be featured in an upcoming issue of Hustler. Flynt decided to run an ad titled “My first time” which chronicles Falwell’s first time drinking Campari. The ad, set up in an interview format, was meant to be a satirical, fictional, not-actually-Jerry Falwell account of him misinterpreting the questions as asking about his first sexual encounter, which he graphically describes. Long story short, the fictional ad suggests Falwell’s first sexual encounter was an incestuous affair with his own mother in a family outhouse. The advertisement was disgusting, derogatory, and most importantly, hilarious. However, Falwell (obviously) didn’t find the ad very funny and sued the ever-loving bejesus out of Hustler, claiming an intentional infliction of emotional distress, which for those of you not up to date on your law language basically means Falwell was claiming defamation. The case ultimately made it to the Supreme Court. For a defamation case to have feet, it needs to satisfy a plethora of conditions, namely, the defamation in question needs to include actual malice, which it didn’t, because Falwell, as a televangelist was an all-purpose public figure, meaning proving actual malice would’ve been the legal equivalent to Kobe Bryant proving he really didn’t force himself on that girl. The court saw it that way, and sided with Hustler, ruling “since the language in question was clearly satirical” they couldn’t go forward with defamation proceedings, which marked the first time in the history of the Supreme Court a court case involving the fidelity of someone’s mother was in question.
4. Buck v. Bell
Speaking of incest, (that’s how you transition, folks) let’s revisit an old case from rural Virginia. Unlike the obvious hilarity of the Falwell case, they Buck v. Bell details are decidedly more depressing. This next sentence will be very difficult to understand, but here it goes: Carrie Buck, a young woman, was raped by her adoptive mother’s nephew-in-law, and then became pregnant. Unfortunately, Buck, her mother, and the nephew were all deemed “feeble-minded” (how people in the 1920’s said ‘mentally challenged’ because appropriately diagnosing mental illness was apparently decades away). In fact, Buck’s 52-year old mother was said to have the brain capacity of an 8-year old, while Buck herself wound up institutionalized as a result of her illness. Of course, the illegitimate child ended up having severe mental defects, leading the hospital to sterilize the young Buck (pun by no means intended) against her will. The case went to the Supreme Court, where the court shockingly, in a 8-1 decision determined the hospital was within their right to have Buck sterilized, preventing future childbirth and in the process eliminating more “feeble-minded” offspring to “pollute the gene pool.” Those are not my words, and apparently political correctness didn’t exist in 1927 either, as Justice Wendall Holmes begrudgingly ended his majority decision with “three generations of imbeciles is enough” which is about as appropriate as Forrest Gump’s mom telling him he really was too stupid to go to public school.
3. Korematsu v. United States
This case, unequivocally, is the most controversial case in the history of the Supreme Court. After the Pearl Harbor attacks and ultimate declaration of war in 1941, the United States became a little nervous of Japanese people. In a move literally only paralleled by Nazi Germany, President Franklin Roosevelt passed Executive Order 9066 in May of 1942, which authorized the declaration of military zones, which wound up paving the way for internment camps. An internment camp, more or less, was a military compound which housed any and all Japanese citizens rounded up by the United States military. Fred Korematsu, a native of San Francisco, and you known, an American citizen who happened to be half Japanese, naturally refused to go to such a camp. When he was forced to do so or be imprisoned, he sued the United States, arguing that there order was a violation of the fifth amendment, which David Chappelle eloquently summarized as “pleadin’ da fif.” When the case finally made it the the Supreme Court, opinion was split, but the justices ultimately ruled in favor of the United States in a 6-3 decision. Justice Hugo Black left not a trace of ambiguity in his reasoning, declaring the US had a compelling interest in segregating an entire race of people, based on ancestry, to what amounted to several hundred acres in the West Coast. Because the U.S. feared another attack from Japan, they government took the classic “all Asians look the same” stereotype and pushed its limits, effectively deciding, “all Japanese people are working together to destroy America, because they look the same”. The case was subsequently criticized, with the court admitting they were wrong with Ronald Reagan going as far as actually apologizing to all Japanese people as a result of internment camps. Fortunately, the government paid the nearly 83,000 displaced Asian Americans $20,000 each, which given the circumstances, amounts to the same amount of rent they would’ve paid for a modest 2-bedroom apartment if they hadn’t spent three years locked in a dusty, Oregonian prison camp. Most disturbingly of all, last year, Justice Antonin Scalia stated internment was wrong, but he could see it happening again during wartime.
2. Antonin Scalia
Oh man, another glorious transition on my part. I’m nailing this article. Anyway, justice Scalia, known for his devil may care attitude, strong view of the textual aspects of the constitution and being the Nick Carter to the remainder of the Court’s Backstreet Boys, has certainly had his fair share of “uh, what?” moments in the court. Scalia has publicly stated he has the same views of murder as he does of homosexuality (both wrong in his eyes), which given the frankness of the statement, isn’t too farfetched or offensive. He’s announced he thinks his job is entirely too easy. His sarcasm is usually dialed up to 11, as he’s questioned what exactly a “moderate interpretation” of the constitution even means, and he’s gotten his fair share of audible laughter in the court room, with laughter during Supreme Court proceedings trailing only funerals as “most inappropriate places to be jovial”. While Scalia’s controversial decision to “keep it light” can sometimes be misinterpreted as him not taking his position seriously enough, it was a case brought to the court in 2001 that made Scalia and company realize they were totally done with “this taking things seriously nonsense”.
The Professional Golf Association Tour has a very strict set of rules unless your name is Tiger Woods; you must be white, between the ages of 30-50, drive the ball less than 300 yards, but hit irons perfectly straight and miss one easy putt per round while routinely nailing uphill 60-footers that serve no purpose but to immaculate the average viewer. And don’t be female because the PGA Tour was the original He-man Woman Haters Club. Oh, and also during a PGA Tour event you can’t ride in a golf cart. So when Paul Martin was banned from a tournament because he needed a cart to deal with a disability he’d suffered since birth, he was rightfully upset, and sued the PGA. Somehow, miraculously, this case made it to the Supreme Court. The court did rule in favor of Martin, deciding the PGA was in violation of the American’s with Disabilities Act and several obvious human decency violations the PGA must’ve neglected to learn at birth, and allowed the disabled golfer to ride in a cart. Scalia, however, recognizing the utter ludicrousness of this case, did not hesitate to take some cheap shorts during his dissent. Scalia went on to deliver one of the most sarcastic responses in the history of human language, stating (I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly) “We, the Supreme Law of the land, entrusted with the protection of the interpretation of the United States Constitution have taken on an unprecedented and awesome responsibility to decide ‘What is Golf?'” Scalia ponders the philosophical question of “if a person is simply riding around in a cart, are they really a golfer, or simply imitating a golfer?” Clearly, Scalia was not amused with such a waste of time. I will be quick to remind you the court hears about 70 cases per year, and in 2001, the court got to decide what exactly golf was. Way to go America.
1. Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corps
For this, I’m dictating slightly from the style of the rest of this article. For one, this case didn’t come from the US Supreme Court, but from the Texas State Supreme Court. But, if you ask Texas, the Texas Supreme Court is just as good as the U.S. one, so that’s gotta count for something. Also, I’ll spare the details of the case because they are incredibly boring and of no relevance whatsoever. In the Bradshaw case, the Texas court used their opportunity when delivering the majority opinion to trash the attorneys in question.
You see, over the course of the court proceedings, the court determined the actions taken by both lawyers were slightly inappropriate, bordering on near childish. The quote, delivered in a state Supreme Courtroom, reads as follows:
“Before proceeding further, the Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact – complete with hats, handshakes, and cryptic words—to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed.”
If the Chief Justice delivered that line in a rap battle, all the microphones would’ve dropped. That atomic bomb of satirical, verbal, explosive hatred fired at the attorneys in question fully shows just how far they must’ve worn out their welcome with the court. I guess if you’re in position to have members of the most hated profession in the palm of your hands, you might as well toss some legendary insults their way.