Friday, January 1, 2010

'Nino Inchoate

Above the Law tips to the New York Times Magazine article which should be in your Sunday Times on Antonin Scalia's recent oral argument meltdown over a lawyer's use of the word choate (pronounced: Kow-ate, or Kow-it.)  If you look at Black's Law Dictionary "choate" means a right that has become perfected or "ripened."  An example might be a lien against property which is made perfect by a filing with the county recorder's office.  Bad Lawyer's favorite Associate Jusitice, who as you will recall does not believe that "actual innocence" is a constitutionally sufficient reason not to execute a death row inmate--has ruled from the bench that the word choate does not exist.  Justice Scalia approves of the word, inchoate which means imperfect, incomplete, or unperfected. Justice Scalia has it fixed in his firmament, that choate is to inchoate like "sult" is to "insult."

I assume if you read Bad Lawyer regulalry you are asking for my spin on why 'Nino's reaction to the lawyer's use of the objectoinable word is remarkable.

Lawyers for the most part are gas bags.  Hell, the use of the word, choate or for that matter inchoate is perfectly pretentious.  Makes me laugh!  In law schools, you'll get law students asking questions by prefacing the question with the word, Query?  Query, Professor Windbag? From the lowliest of street hustlers to Justices and Chief Justices of the respective Supreme Courts, we all see ourselves as mighty advocates: Clarence Darrow, Cicero, Abraham Lincoln, reincarnate; or jurists in the mode of Judge Learned Hand, Justice Benjamin Cardoza, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and so forth.  In reality, we are just little men and women who engage in constant self-aggrandizement, puffery, and ego inflation.  Scalia and his ilk do this with the linguistic colloquies (formal conversations) from the bench. 

Remember, this is the Justice who believes that the original meaning of our founding documents should control how the U.S. Constitution applies to things like your reproductive organs--Scalia is in his own self-enlarged view being consistent because the word choate while actually in usage (by windbag lawyers) is of dubious etymology.  An "originalist" like 'Nino ain't gonna let a seriously etymologically questionable usage slide, put an innocent man to death, well, that's a different matter.


  1. I like to imagine there is a special circle in Hell for those sententious, morally vacant Hollow Men (and women) for whom righteous vocabulary usage takes precedence over righteous action. And I love your picture of the law school classroom--you know, I always imagine it like something out of The Paper Chase--a movie I really liked and, I think, a great (if short-lived) TV series. It seemed so romantic/intellectual on the screen--but I guess it wasn't really like that. Sigh. Why can't more things be like they are in the movies?

  2. Btw I've always thought that Scalia was the best living argument for reincarnation I've ever seen. He's got Grand Inquisitor written all over him.

  3. Ah, law school was it's own special hell, and really not because it was intellectually challenging which is not to say that there weren't professors who were intelectually challenged, er -ing.

    No, law school was populated by baby sharklings; darting here, darting there, ready to bite. The sychophants would flock around the professors, worshipfully hanging onto every pearl of wisdom. It was disgusting.

    I may have talked about this before, but during an early writing project, some unknown classmate razored-out the one aggregate source material available in the library (yes, this was the age of books on paper)--necessary to complete research in an apparent effort to get a leg up on all of us, his/her classmates.

    I had a writing project with a randomly assigned partner. We were to discuss a products liability issue divided into two topics and cobble together a twenty-five page memorandum. I worked up 11 or 12 pages--she gave me her portion of the memo, 23 pages! I told my partner that I'd arbitrarily cut the last 10 pages of her part of the memo and attach my contribution or she cut it herself. We worked it out. She ended up at "Nino's" former law firm.