The entertaining grammar lesson that Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. included in his March 1 decision in FCC v. AT&T did not just help win him unanimity among his voting colleagues. Today it also earned Roberts a legal writing award from The Green Bag, the unconventional law review that honors exemplary writing every year.
The issue in the case was whether the protection for "personal privacy" in the Freedom of Information Act extended to corporations like AT&T. In the process of rejecting that proposition, Roberts wrote that just because federal law has defined "person" to include corporations, that does not mean that "personal," the adjectival form of the word, also includes corporations. He offered several examples of noun-adjective discordance, such as crab and crabbed, corn and corny, crank and cranky. Clearly having fun, Roberts could not resist ending the opinion with: "We trust that AT&T will not take it personally."
Also winning in the category of judicial opinions is the late 7th Circuit judge Terence Evans, who amusingly dealt with the weighty trademark issues surrounding the quilted pattern of certain toilet paper brands in Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products v. Kimberly-Clark Corp. Seventh Circuit colleague Richard Posner also won for his more serious decision in the Alien Tort Statute case of Flomo v. Firestone Natural Rubber Co.
In the category of concurrences and dissents, Justice Elena Kagan was a winner for her forceful dissent in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, an Establishment Clause case.
Book winners were: William Coleman, Counsel for the Situation; Clare Cushman, Courtwatchers: Eyewitness Accounts in Supreme Court History; and William Stuntz, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice.
Green Bag editor-in-chief Ross Davies said he was happy with the range of winning writings. "Every year I am struck by how much very good legal writing there is," he said. The full list of winners is here.
Note: the author of this post is one of dozens of members of the board of advisers that suggests nominees for the writing awards.