Monday, March 26, 2012

Solicitor-General Humpty-Dumpty

From Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland:
Humpty Dumpty. And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!
Alice. I don't know what you mean by " glory."
Humpty Dumpty (contemptuously). Of course you don't —till I tell you. I meant " there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"
Alice. But "glory " doesn't mean " a nice knock-down argument."
Humpty Dumpty. When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.
Alice. The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things.
Humpty Dumpty. The question is, which is to be master, that's all. They've a temper, some of them — particularly verbs, they're the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs. However, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!
From the oral arguments (pp. 31-32) before the Supreme Court today about the constitutionality of Obamacare:
JUSTICE ALITO: [Solicitor] General Verrilli, today you are arguing that the penalty is not a tax. Tomorrow you are going to be back and you will be arguing that the penalty is a tax.   Has the Court ever held that something that is a tax for purposes of the taxing power under the Constitution is not a tax under the Anti-Injunction Act?
 GENERAL VERRILLI: No, Justice Alito, but the Court has held in the license tax cases that something can be a constitutional exercise of the taxing power whether or not it is called a tax. And that's because the nature of the inquiry that we will conduct tomorrow is different from the nature of the inquiry that we will conduct today. 
Today it's not a tax.  Tomorrow it is.  What is the meaning of "is"?

1 comment:

  1. This YouTube video (an advertisement of some sort) is so very appropriate to this topic!

    I especially like the looks of incredulity chosen for each justice. I can only hope that the Obama lawyers are facing the same looks as we speak!