It's rare, and always dramatic to watch, when a Supreme Court justice reads from a dissent on the bench. On Thursday, when Justice John Paul Stevens read at length from his stinging 90-page dissent in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, it was also a little painful to watch.
For more than 20 minutes, Stevens spoke haltingly as he read from a summary of the dissent, a task he'd ordinarily breeze through. The 89-year-old justice seemed off his game, tripping on some words, getting stuck on others. At one point, he kept mispronouncing the word "corporation" as something like "corpo-russian," and he could not quite get it right.
As CBS News Court correspondent Jan Crawford noted on her blog with similar observations, "Maybe it was just a bad day, and Lord knows we’ve all had those." And the written product is more important than how it was read aloud. But with a justice who is said to be on the verge of retiring at the end of this term, and in a case of such high impact, it was hard not to notice Stevens' tough morning.
UPDATE: Slate's Dahlia Lithwick also observed Stevens' difficulties.