The Supreme Court Is Split on Apostrophes
Three dissenting justices—it used to be four—are breaking with their brethren on the issue of apostrophes.
Frank Wagner, the soon-to-be retired reporter of decisions for the Supreme Court, revealed the split in a two-part interview with the National Law Journal. The job of his office includes checking opinions for typos, misspellings, grammatical errors and deviations from Supreme Court rules.
But there’s no use in changing apostrophes of dissenting justices who disagree with the court’s prevailing rule on possessives that requires an apostrophe only after the final “s” in “Congress.” Wagner tells the NLJ that over the years, four justices informed his office that they preferred “Congress’s” and he sees no reason to impose conformity. One of the dissenters has since left the court.
Wagner uses the example to illustrate differences over plural possessives, although the word “Congress” would likely come under the Associated Press’ rule governing singular proper names ending in “s.” (Its rule also calls for a single apostrophe.) AP’s headache-inducing entry on apostrophes is more than 6,200 words long.
In the first part of the interview, the NLJ notes a prior split over whether the more formal word for pot should be spelled “marijuana” or “marihuana.” Wagner’s predecessor asked the justices to vote, and the “j” spelling won out, NLJ Supreme Court writer Tony Mauro wrote in the Green Bag.