In 2005, Boston University law professor Jay D. Wexler analyzed nine months of Supreme Court transcripts in a semi-serious attempt to identify the court's funniest member. Based on the number of remarks followed by the notation "[laughter]", Wexler concluded Antonin Scalia was the funniest justice, a conclusion that seemed to support the public perception of Scalia as a benevolent, Chicago-pizza-hating Originalist.
Wexler's study was fun, but was his methodology sophisticated enough? The New York Times' Adam Liptak reports that, in a new study for The Communication Law Review, Ryan Malphurs, a litigation consultant with a Ph.D. in communications, takes Wexler's study one step further, examining every instance of laughter in the Supreme Court's 2006-2007 to improve on the earlier research, which, according to Malphurs, "lacked the methodological rigor and insight normally attributable to social scientific studies" and "did not follow traditional approaches to studying communication."
What does the new study conclude? That Antonin Scalia is still the funniest Supreme Court justice, prompting 60 of the 131 instances of laughter during the term. Stephen Breyer was still second with 30, and John Roberts was third with 12.
The famously taciturn Clarence Thomas was last in both studies with zero laughs prompted.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.