A majestic John Robearts leans on his gavel. Samuel Owlito frowns over reading glasses resting on his beak. Thurgood Marshvole gazes up thoughtfully.
They are the inhabitants of Zoopreme Court, a project by Dan Schofield and Alice DuBois, recently married Harvard grads who have decided to sketch all 112 historical Supreme Court justices as animals, all for the sake of pun.
Dan does the sketches on 9" x 12" paper; Alice helps with the puns, moral support, and general prodding. The two were married in 2009.
"It is definitely an unfair division of labor," Alice said in a phone interview this week from the couple's apartment in Brooklyn Heights, near Manhattan. "My main contribution is a deep and abiding love of animals, and joking about animals, and punning about animals, and, I don't know, reading about animals."
Dan, a TV writer, formerly wrote questions for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," the hit ABC game show. "Stuff like Supreme Court justices is the sort of trivia that I know and find interesting," he said. Alice works as an editor at The New York Times, where she develops content and helps launch blogs and web-based editorial products.
The idea came about on a car trip through Washington, D.C. last fall. The two were driving back to New York after visiting Dan's brother in Alexandria, V.A. when they thought of the "Zoopreme Court" pun. "Being in our nation's capital put us in a Supreme Court state of mind," Dan said. With the help of an iPhone and Wikipedia to find the names of past justices, the animal puns began.
Dan drew for some newspapers and magazines in college, but in recent years he's mostly used his talent to entertain Alice with notes. The Zoopreme Court project was Alice's way of prodding him to do more. In our interview, Dan told me Alice suggested the idea and he agreed to do the drawings. "But he didn't have that right," Alice corrected. "He didn't say 'okay,' he said, 'Wait, that's a lot more work for me,'" Alice said, imitating Dan's skepticism.
Given the gravity of the court, and the intense politics that often surround it, animal sketches might be the lightest way one can interpret dense, controversial legal issues.
"I think the pun is foremost," Dan explained. There's no politics or editorializing in his sketches, he said. "It's fun to try to give them recognizable human emotions, when they're just animals."
The only complaint Zoopreme Court has gotten, they say, is its ubiquity of bears.
"That was sort of an arbitrary rule we made for ourselves when we were starting out," Dan said. "We like bears, so we would allow the repeat of bears, but we're not allowing the repeat of other animals."
"I remember just saying, 'Oh, look how many we can turn into bears," Alice added. "Bears are also a majestic animal, and the Supreme Court is sort of serious."
After posting the first pencil sketch in February, Dan and Alice are working backward through time, and are one fifth of the way through all 112 justices. They've punned on two major Supreme Court cases, Miranda v. Arizona* and Roe v. Wade.
The couple will try to stick with it, until James Wilson and John Jay grow paws, beaks, or whatever is needed to keep the pun alive.
*The post originally referred to a pencil sketch about immigration laws in Arizona. We regret the error.