Our Daily Bleg: Got Any Legal Quotes That Top Lamenting the Demise of Dueling?

Our resident quote bleggar Fred Shapiro, editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, is back with another request. If you have a bleg of your own — it needn’t have anything to do with quotations — send it along here.

Last week’s quotation bleg, asking for suggestions of notable recent U.S. Supreme Court quotes, elicited this response from Jerry E. Stephens, quoting now-retired U.S. District Judge Wayne Alley (Western District of Oklahoma):

I suppose counsel have a penumbral constitutional right to regard each other as schmucks, but I know of no principle that justifies litigation pollution. … This case makes me lament the demise of dueling. I cannot order a duel, and thus achieve a salubrious reduction in the number of counsel to put up with.

Clearly the U.S. Supreme Court does not have a monopoly on good quotes. I invite suggestions of other (non-U.S. Supreme Court) legal quotations from recent years.


"The parties are advised to chill."

- Judge Kozinski, Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc. 296 F.3d 894, 9th Circuit, 2002

Mattel sued MCA over the song "Barbie Girl", MCA countersued. The quote in context:

'After Mattel filed suit, Mattel and MCA employees traded barbs in the press. When an MCA spokeswoman noted that each album included a disclaimer saying that Barbie Girl was a "social commentary [that was] not created or approved by the makers of the doll," a Mattel representative responded by saying, "That's unacceptable.... It's akin to a bank robber handing a note of apology to a teller during a heist. [It n]either diminishes the severity of the crime, nor does it make it legal." He later characterized the song as a "theft" of "another company's property."

'MCA filed a counterclaim for defamation based on the Mattel representative's use of the words "bank robber," "heist," "crime" and "theft." But all of these are variants of the invective most often hurled at accused infringers, namely "piracy." No one hearing this accusation understands intellectual property owners to be saying that infringers are nautical cutthroats with eyepatches and peg legs who board galleons to plunder cargo. In context, all these terms are nonactionable "rhetorical hyperbole." The parties are advised to chill.'



Avista Management v. Wausau Underwriters Insurance Co.


"ORDERED that said Motion is DENIED. Instead, the Court will fashion a new form of alternative dispute resolution, to wit:. . . At that time and location, counsel shall engage in one (1) game of "rock, paper, scissors." The winner of this engagement shall be entitled to select the location for the 30(b)(6) deposition to be held somewhere in Hillsborough County during the period July 11-12, 2006."

David Lovely

Samuel Kent is known, perhaps infamous, for some very acidic legal writing, the best of which is probably Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Ccorporation, 147 F. Supp. 2d 668.

Some choice tidbits...
"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. Whatever actually occurred, the Court is now faced with the daunting task of deciphering their submissions. With Big Chief tablet readied, thick black pencil in hand, and a devil-may-care laugh in the face of death, life on the razor's edge sense of exhilaration, the Court begins."

"That is all well and good--the Court is quite fond of the Erie doctrine; indeed there is talk of little else around both the Canal and this Court's water cooler. Defendant, however, does not even cite to Erie, but to a mere successor case, and further fails to even begin to analyze why the Court should approach the shores of Erie. Finally, Defendant does not even provide a cite to its desired Texas limitation statute. A more bumbling approach is difficult to conceive--but wait folks, There's More!"

"In either case, the Court cautions Plaintiff's counsel not to run with a sharpened writing utensil in hand--he could put his eye out."



A Supreme Court Quote that probably made the aforementioned list, but which I find absolutely incredible:

"Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Buck v. Bell (1927)

Even more horrifying that this was case about negative eugenics. Virginia at the time sterilized people it deemed shouldn't procreate.

Karl Bielefeldt

A little more subtle, but one of my favorites nonetheless, from Davenport et al. v. Washington Education Association (on whether teacher's unions can use dues for political activities, in response to their argument that they mix the political contributions into the same account as the dues):

"Respondent's improvident accounting practices do not render §760 unconstitutional."

scientist at large


Copyright Robyn Ann Goldstein, 2003


The entire text of the report of the decision in Dickes v. Fenne, which can be found here:


Robbie Jones

Waggoner v. Wal-Mart - in a dispute over whether to depose a Wal-Mart Exec in Texas or Wal-Mart:

"The Court is sympathetic with the Defendant's argument. Surely Defendant's corporate representative, a resident of Arkansas, would feel great humiliation by being forced to enter the home state of the University of Texas, where the legendary Texas Longhorns have wrought havoc on the Arkansas Razorbacks with an impressive 55-21 all-time record.
On the other hand, the Court is sympathetic with Plaintiff's position. Plaintiffs might enter Arkansas with a bit of trepidation as many residents of Arkansas are still seeking retribution for the “Game of the Century” in which James Street and Darrell Royal stunned the Razorbacks by winning the 1969 National Championship."

Ultimately, the court ordered the deposition to occur at the steps of the Texarkana Federal Building at the state line.


Joe Smith

The best legal war stories and the best judicial quotes almost all involve miscarriages of justice. Based on some of these quotes the authors should not have been on the bench.


Judge Richard Posner, writing in Thorogood v. Sears, Roebuck and Company, 547 F.3d 742 (2008):

"The plaintiff claims to believe that when a dryer is labeled or advertised as having a stainless steel drum, this implies, without more, that the drum is 100 percent stainless steel because otherwise it might rust and cause rust stains in the clothes dried in the dryer. Do the other 500,000 members of the class believe this? Does anyone believe this besides Mr. Thorogood?"


David Lovely -

It's too bad you didn't quote (or link) the full case. There are other great lines:

Defendant begins the decent into Alice's Wonderland by submitting a Motion that relies upon only one legal authority ... Plaintiff responds to this deft, yet minimalist analytical wizardry with an equally gossamer wisp of an argument, ... naturally Plaintiff also neglects to provide any analysis whatsoever .... Instead, Plaintiff 'cites' to a single case from the Fourth Circuit. Plaintiff's citation, however, points to a nonexistent Volume '1886' of the Federal Reporter ... and neglects to provide a pinpoint citation for what, after being located, turned out to be a forty-page decision. ...

The Court cannot even begin to comprehend why this case was selected for reference. It is almost as if Plaintiff's counsel chose the opinion by throwing long range darts at the Federal Reporter (remarkably enough hitting a nonexistent volume!) ...

Despite the continued shortcomings of Plaintiff's supplemental submission, the Court commends Plaintiff for his vastly improved choice of crayon -- Brick Red is much easier on the eyes than Goldenrod, and stands out much better amidst the mustard splotched about Plaintiff's briefing ...



At least in the military, the judge was right, he can't order a duel:
Article 114 ("Dueling" ) Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)

"Any person subject to [the UCMJ] who fights or promotes, or is concerned in or conives at fighting a duel, ow who, haveing knowledge of a challenge sente or about to be sent, fails to report the fact promptly to the proper authority, shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."

I love old laws!

scientist at large

My Friend;

You may not have seen the original posting of the germ of the source of this concept" "no mind, no matter," Dr. Alfred Jones (in Goldstein, 2003)

i.e., "no mind, no (subjective understanding of the) matter" = tri-logy

Sean Samis

Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson of the Wisconsin Supreme Court:

The rule of law is hard to define, but it embodies the principles of government on the basis of established law. Government action must be authorized by law and adopted in accordance with law. Not only must all the people obey the law, but all government officials are also constrained and restrained by law. And it is the courts that are the linchpin of the rule of law because they, in peaceful resolution of disputes, determine the rights and obligations of disputants, including the government party. And the courts depend on the judiciary that is neutral, fair, impartial, and non-partisan; popularly known in the legal profession as “judicial independence”.

– at the groundbreaking ceremony for Eckstein Hall, Marquette Law School; May 22, 2008.


I think the Court can absolutely positively take judicial notice that Duke is probably the worst football team in Division I football. Everybody knows that. That's no secret. The longest losing streak, the inability to ever win games. . .We certainly don't have to go out and take six months of discovery to establish that for you. . .So the bottom line is how much discovery, if any, should anyone have to take, want to take or need to take to make the simple analysis of whether or not that was a team of similar stature? It's judicial notice that they got beat by Utah. Maybe that's part of the dispute – that they wish they'd played somebody weaker, like Duke which would have been an automatic W. --Lawyer for Duke University in an argument after University of Louisville sued Duke for backing out of a 4 game contract.

Link to short write up: http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2008/09/09/judge-standard-set-by-duke-football-team-couldnt-be-any-lower/



Plaintiff sued defendant after buying a house from him and subsequently discovering it to be haunted:

"From the perspective of a person in the position of plaintiff herein, a very practical problem arises with respect to the discovery of a paranormal phenomenon: “Who you gonna' call?” as the title song to the movie “Ghostbusters” asks. Applying the strict rule of caveat emptor to a contract involving a house possessed by poltergeists conjures up visions of a psychic or medium routinely accompanying the structural engineer and Terminix man on an inspection of every home subject to a contract of sale. It portends that the prudent attorney will establish an escrow account lest the subject of the transaction come back to haunt him and his client-or pray that his malpractice insurance coverage extends to supernatural disasters. In the interest of avoiding such untenable consequences, the notion that a haunting is a condition which can and should be ascertained upon reasonable inspection of the premises is a hobgoblin which should be exorcised from the body of legal precedent and laid quietly to rest."


"As a matter of law, the house is haunted."

-Justice Rubin, Supreme Court, Appellate Division of NY Stambovsky v. Ackley, 169 A.D.2d 254 (1991)


C.E. Petit

"This is not fine prose nor, by itself, terribly clear. It would appear to have been drafted by lawyers."

Bourke v. Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., 159 F.3d 1032, 1037 (7th Cir. 1998) (Cummings, J.)


Q. When he went, had you gone and had she, if she wanted to and were able, for the time being excluding all the restraints on her not to go, gone also, would he have brought you, meaning you and she, with him to the station?

MR. BROOKS: Objection. That question should be taken out and shot.

OK, probably apocryphal, but the most fun of any.


"At this juncture, Plaintiff retains, albeit seemingly to his befuddlement and/or consternation, a maritime law cause of action versus his alleged Jones Act employer, Defendant Unity Marine Corporation, Inc. However, it is well known around these parts that Unity Marine's lawyer is equally likable and has been writing crisply in ink since the second grade. Some old-timers even spin yarns of an ability to type. The Court cannot speak to the veracity of such loose talk, but out of caution, the Court suggests that Plaintiff's lovable counsel had best upgrade to a nice shiny No. 2 pencil or at least sharpen what's left of the stubs of his crayons for what remains of this heart-stopping, spine-tingling action. [FN4]

FN4. In either case, the Court cautions Plaintiff's counsel not to run with a sharpened writing utensil in hand--he could put his eye out."

- John W. Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corporation, Inc.
US District Court - S.D. Texas
147 F.Supp.2d 668



7th Circuit Apeallate Judge Frank Easterbrook:

"The prosecutor adds that, by currying favor with Farley, Thompson improved her job security. This is implausible; Thompson already had security as a civil servant." ... "The United States has not cited, and we have not found, any appellate decision holding that an increase in official salary, or a psychic benefit such as basking in a superior's approbation (and thinking one's job more secure), is the sort of “private gain” that makes an act criminal" (http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/fdocs/docs.fwx?submit=rss_sho&shofile=06-3676_015.pdf)

"Today's decision will discombobulate the whole criminal-law docket. I trust that our superiors will have something to say about this. Soon." (http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/K00T777H.pdf very bottom, after his dissent)

"Defendants might as well have said: Beneficent creatures from the 17th dimension use this bracelet as a beacon to locate people who need pain relief and whisk them off to their home world every night to provide help in ways unknown to our science." commenting on the Q-Ray bracelet

Courtesy of Wikipedia:

Easterbrook used such language as "trundled to the squadrol" to describe an arrest; and states of the pigeon-feeder that she "will never be confused with the 30th Earl of Mar, whose hobby was kicking pigeons."

He describes a controversy over whether a police officer, or the plaintiff's own bird, had attacked the plaintiff thusly: "[Plaintiff] says that he was clobbered by a pair of handcuffs; [the officer] maintains that the [plaintiffs]' red macaw drew the blood when it landed on [plaintiff]'s head during the fracas and started pecking." In a footnote Easterbrook added "Predatory birds rarely attack large animals whose eyes they can see, 11 Harv.Med. School Health Letter 8 (Feb.1986), and perhaps William's eyes got distracted, to his macaw's glee."

In Frantz v. U.S. Powerlifting Federation, 836 F.2d 1063 (7th Cir. 1987), he wrote, "The absence of ineluctable answers does not imply the privilege to indulge an unexamined gestalt."