Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Scalia v. The English Language

This is why people adore lawyers.

Today's majority opinion in Entergy, Inc. v. Riverkeeper, Inc., No. 07-588,* contains the following sentence penned by Justice Scalia: "But minimize is a term of degree and is not necessarily used to refer exclusively to the 'greatest possible reduction.'" Page 11 (emphasis supplied).

This stinks a little bit of something, doesn't it? Justice Scalia gets some help from one online dictionary. Not so much from two others. The problem really is that "reduce" and "minimize" don't actually mean the same thing. Would our friends on the right be happier if Sarah Palin said "Gosh darn it, I will reduce your taxes!" or if she said "Doggone it, I'm gonna minimize your taxes!"? Can we stipulate that the John Galts of the world would be more pleased in the second scenario? And isn't insisting that "minimize" doesn't refer to "the greatest possible reduction" a little, well, tricky?

*For more on this case, check out Scotusblog's typically excellent analysis here.

1 comment:

The Andover Snark said...

You're being a little selective in your critique, aren't you? "Reduce" and "minimize" don't mean the same thing, but "minimize" and "eliminate" also don't mean the same thing. Once you decide that you're going to reduce something, but not to zero, you need to figure out what the "minimum" is. All Justice Scalia said was that Congress had not said "minimum" equals "greatest possible reduction;" rather, Congress said "minimum" equals what could be achieved with the "best technology available." Once you're using subjective considerations like "best," why isn't it reasonable to think that Congress wanted a cost-benefit analysis?