Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Bob Dylan, Attorney at Law

A family member and Dylanophile sent me this interesting International Herald Tribune story about Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts citing the Bard of Duluth in his dissent last week:
''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,'' 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 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,'' Long said.

Is this truly meant to be convincing? As the article points out, Roberts doesn't use the quote with the meaning Dylan had intended. Roberts twists a statement of anti-materialism into a justification for protecting a phone company's money. So why even bother quoting from a poet/songwriter with whom Roberts clearly doesn't agree? My guess is that Roberts is trying to fool himself, either that he is cooler than he really is, or that there is some poetic truth to his money-grubbing ways. Either way, it is just sad.

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