“Window Dressing” at One First Street

May 17th, 2010

In Graham v. Florida, Justice Thomas rejects Justice Kennedy’s “national consensus” approach to 8th Amendment jurisprudence. And he does it with gusto, comparing it to ornaments or window dressing.

In the end, however, objective factors such as legislation and the frequency of a penalty’s use are merely ornaments in the Court’s analysis, window dressing that accompanies its judicial fiat.11 By the Court’s own decree, “[c]ommunityconsensus . . . is not itself determinative.” Ante, at 16. Only the independent moral judgment of this Court issufficient to decide the question. See ibid.

I love the expression Window Dressing.

Here is one of my favorite jokes (imagine it being told in a Yiddish accent).

So a child was walking down the street, and passes a Mohel’s shop. The window is filled with pocket watches. So the child walks into the store and asks the Mohel, why are pocket watches hanging in the window? The Mohel asks the child, what would you like me to hang in the window?

And apparently SCOTUS likes the phrase as well. A quick search of the Supreme Court database shows that the phrase has been used in 12 Opinions.

The last time this phrase was used so pejoratively was in Justice White’s concurring opinion in New York v. US:

In view of the many Tenth Amendment cases decided over the past two decades in which resort to the kind of historical analysis generated in the majority opinion was not deemed necessary, I do not read the majority’s many invocations of history to be anything other than elaborate windowdressing.

Update: I just realized I read this joke in Judge Posner’s classic, How Judges Think. Check it out on Google Books. Seriously, when in doubt, I should just assume Posner said it.