Sloppy Research at the United States Supreme Court?

Adam Liptak has an article in the Week in Review section of today’s New York Times, “The Chief Justice, Dylan and the Disappearing Double Negative.”  The fun article, about music lyrics cited in judicial opinions, includes a sidebar, “Most-Cited Rockers in Judicial Opinions,” drawing from the research of law professor Alex B. Long.

Liptak reports that the Chief Justice cited Bob Dylan in his dissent in last Monday’s Sprint Communications Co. v. APCC Services, Inc.:

“The absence of any right to the substantive recovery means that respondents cannot benefit from the judgment they seek and thus lack Article III standing,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “‘When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.’  Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone, on Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia Records 1965).”

Professor Long is quoted in the article as saying, “this was almost certainly the first use of a rock lyric to buttress a legal proposition in a Supreme Court decision.”

But, as Liptak later points out, the Chief Justice got the cite wrong:

On the other hand, Chief Justice Roberts gets the citation wrong, proving that he is neither an originalist nor a strict constructionist. What Mr. Dylan actually sings, of course, is, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

It’s true that many Web sites, including Mr. Dylan’s official one, reproduce the lyric as Chief Justice Roberts does. But a more careful Dylanist might have consulted his iPod. “It was almost certainly the clerks who provided the citation,” Professor Long said. “I suppose their use of the Internet to check the lyrics violates one of the first rules they learned when they were all on law review: when quoting, always check the quote with the original source, not someone else’s characterization of what the source said.”

We will cover this next year in advanced legal research.



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