U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Word of the Day: Orthogonal

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University of Michigan law professor Richard Friedman was trying to define the scope of the confrontation clause in oral arguments yesterday when he was called on to define another term: orthogonal.

Friedman used the word when he indicated that a justice’s question was not pertinent to the present case, according to The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times and the Washington Post. “I think that issue is entirely orthogonal to the issue here,” he said. The word is a math term meaning things are perpendicular or at right angles, but Friedman used it to mean that two propositions are irrelevant, the BLT says.

That got the attention of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “I’m sorry. Entirely what?” he said.

“Orthogonal,” Friedman replied. “Right angle. Unrelated. Irrelevant.”

Friedman tried to continue, but Justice Antonin Scalia jumped in. “What was that adjective? I liked that,” he said.

“I think we should use that in the opinion,” Scalia later added. “Or the dissent,” said Roberts.

Supreme Court justices have long had a fascination with words. In one oral argument, Roberts wanted to know about the word “romanette,” a term for lower case roman numerals. In another, Justice Antonin Scalia complained about using the word “choate” as the opposite of “inchoate.”

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