Scalia rips Oral Advocate, tells him choate is not opposite of inchoate

November 4th, 2009

From the ABA Journal, Justice Scalia had choice words for an attorney who, apparently made up a word, during Oral Arguments.

The problems began for lawyer Randolph Barnhouse soon after he described an opportunity to collect tax money as an “inchoate” interest—an interest that is not yet fully formed, the Associated Press reports.

Barnhouse was arguing that a city government may not bring a RICO suit to recover uncollected taxes because a lost tax opportunity is not an injury to property covered by the statute. (SCOTUSblog has the argument preview.)

In response to a hypothetical, Barnhouse then spoke of a “choate” interest in property—to Scalia’s dismay. Page 5 of the transcript (PDF) has the exchange.

There is no such adjective,” Scalia said. “I know we have used it, but there is no such adjective as ‘choate.’ There is ‘inchoate,’ but the opposite of ‘inchoate’ is not ‘choate.’ ”

As Barnhouse tried to move on, Scalia offered an example. “It’s like ‘gruntled,’ ” he said.

“But I think I am right on the law, Your Honor,” Barnhouse offered, but Scalia wasn’t done.

“Exactly. ‘Disgruntled,’ ” Scalia said. Some people mistakenly assume the opposite of “disgruntled” is “gruntled,” he explained.

I bet after arguments, this attorney was not gruntled.