In a new study discussed today in an Adam Liptak NY TImes article, Justice Antonin Scalia has been found to be the funniest Supreme Court Judge, followed by Justice Stephen Breyer. Justices Ginsburg and Thomas trail the field badly. The study focused on the insertion of "[laughter]" by court reporters into argument transcripts, and was done by a Boston University (Go BU!) law professor, Jay D. Wexler.
Justice Antonin Scalia's wit is widely admired, and now it has been quantified. He is, a new study concludes, 19 times as funny as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Transcripts of oral arguments at the United States Supreme Court have long featured the notation "[laughter]" after a successful quip from a justice or lawyer. But until October 2004, justices were not identified by name, making it impossible to construct a reliable index of judicial wit.
This doesn't seem to be a liberal/conservative thing, but likely reflects confidence in yourself and your command of the law.. Obviously a basic sense of humor helps, but it's easier to recognize amusing situations in your professional situation when you're confident of your command of the situation otherwise. Scalia's, and Breyer's, and now Roberts' command of the law and the arguments gives them the ability to capitalize quickly when funny moments arise. I know it's a lot easier for me to take a humorous tack with patients in my office, putting them at ease, when their condition has a more straightforward workup and solution, whereas difficult problems and tough decisions, requiring intense concentration, make it difficult to see humor.
You can draw your own conclusions about Thomas and Ginsburg.
12/31/05 1505: Linked to Wizbang's COTT XLIV.