national legal correspondent for the New York Times
, Adam Liptak, was
looking through a U.S. Supreme Court decision in what he describes as an
achingly boring case.
tedium lifted when he discovered that no less than the chief justice of the
land, John Roberts, had spiced his opinion with lyrics from the classic Bob
Dylan folk song, "Like a Rolling Stone":
you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.
astutely pointed out that the chief justice slightly misquoted the
folksinger. Dylan actually wrote:
you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose.
after reading a long paper by a University of Tennessee law professor, Liptak
went on note that many judicial opinions borrow from popular songs.
peeked at that academic paper, by Prof. Alex Long, and sure enough, legal texts
are replete with words from pop and rock songs. How can you speak out against the spoiling of natural resources,
for instance, Professor Long suggests, without referencing Joni Mitchell's
lines from "Big Yellow Taxi":
paved paradise/And put up a parking lot.
even came up with a list of the most frequently quoted musical artists. Bruce Springsteen placed third. The Beatles came in second. And the aforementioned Bob Dylan appears to
be the most referenced songwriter in American law. Reporter Liptak found Dylan's line, You don't need a
weatherman to know which way the wind blows, from Subterranean Homesick Blues,
in 19 different court decisions.
really be newsworthy, though, when vintage pop lyrics like Who put the bomp
in the bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp?/Who put the ram in the ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong?
show up in a U.S. Supreme Court decision.