US Supreme Court discovers "orthogonal"

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Tue Jan 12 09:23:57 PST 2010


The Washington Post

Supreme Court Justices, law professor play with words
Tuesday, January 12, 2010; A03

Supreme Court justices deal in words, and they are always on the lookout for
new ones.

University of Michigan law professor Richard D. Friedman discovered that
Monday when he answered a question from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, but added
that it was "entirely orthogonal" to the argument he was making in Briscoe v.

Friedman attempted to move on, but Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stopped

"I'm sorry," Roberts said. "Entirely what?"

"Orthogonal," Friedman repeated, and then defined the word: "Right angle.
Unrelated. Irrelevant."

"Oh," Roberts replied.

Friedman again tried to continue, but he had caught the interest of Justice
Antonin Scalia, who considers himself the court's wordsmith. Scalia recently
criticized a lawyer for using "choate" to mean the opposite of "inchoate," a
word that has created a debate in the dictionary world.

"What was that adjective?" Scalia asked Monday. "I liked that."

"Orthogonal," Friedman said.

"Orthogonal," Roberts said.

"Orthogonal," Scalia said. "Ooh."

Friedman seemed to start to regret the whole thing, saying the use of the word
was "a bit of professorship creeping in, I suppose," but Scalia was happy.

"I think we should use that in the opinion," he said.

"Or the dissent," added Roberts, who in this case was in rare disagreement
with Scalia.


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