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"Supreme Court justices are not laughing at you. They're laughing with you."

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Staff writer Robert Barnes has this piece in The Washington Post, discussing a recent study on laughter in the U.S. Supreme Court.  Building on a previous study, Texas litigation consultant Ryan Malphurs analyzed the "laughters" during oral argument in the 2006-2007 term, determining Justice Scalia to be the comedian of the bench, with Justice Breyer a far second.  Justice Ginsberg, Justice Alito, and Justice Thomas (who does not speak during oral argument) finished last.  In his published results " 'People Did Sometimes Stick Things in My Underwear': The Function of Laughter at the U.S. Supreme Court," (so named after a notable question from Justice Breyer), Malphurs writes:

Because the Courtroom is a site of significant debate and argument, we would expect the justices' laughter to challenge the position of advocates or each other, functioning as control and resistance. However, after considering the four areas of interaction, readers will recognize that the justices do not use laughter to reinforce control or resistance within the Courtroom; instead the justices' laughter diminishes formal control and power barriers, facilitating communication amongst themselves, between the justices and advocates, and with the audience members as well.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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