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from Local Attorney, Michael H. Wasserman

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

BOB DYLAN in the SUPREME COURT


The legal (and music) world is abuzz in response to Chief Justice John Roberts citing Bob Dylan in his dissent in Sprint v. APCC Services. From the New York Times:


Four pages into his dissent on Monday in an achingly boring dispute between pay phone companies and long distance carriers, John G. Roberts Jr., the chief justice of the United States, put a song lyric where the citation to precedent usually goes.

"The absence of any right to the substantive recovery means that respondents cannot benefit from the judgment they seek and thus lack Article III standing," Chief Justice Roberts wrote. " 'When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.' Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone, on Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia Records 1965)."

Alex B. Long, a law professor at the University of Tennessee and perhaps the nation's leading authority on the citation of popular music in judicial opinions, said this was almost certainly the first use of a rock lyric to buttress a legal proposition in a Supreme Court decision. "It's a landmark opinion," Professor Long said.

Rolling Stone named "Like a Rolling Stone" the best song of all time. Roberts, or the clerk who provided the citation, has good taste, but poor attention to detail. A double negative has gone missing; when Dylan sings it, it is "When you ain't got nothing..." Rolling Stone points out that Roberts is the first baby boomer SCOTUS chief. It may be true that we'll see more musical legal citations by those raised on the political music of the 60s.

In the lower courts, according to a study Professor Long published in the Washington & Lee Law Review last year, Mr. Dylan is by far the most cited songwriter. He has been quoted in 26 opinions. Paul Simon is next, with 8 (12 if you count those attributed to Simon & Garfunkel). Bruce Springsteen has 5.

Both Dylan and Springsteen had three songs nominated for ATL's Top Ten Law Songs list, though Dylan was the only one to make the final cut with "Hurricane." Johnny Cash had the most songs nominated. Why aren't the courts showing Cash citation love?