Monday, March 07, 2011

Chief Justice Roberts Lectures AT&T on the Differences between Corn and Corny

In the recent FCC v. AT&T decision, the Supreme Court unanimously shot down the argument that corporations have "personal privacy" which allows them to withhold information under the personal privacy exceptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). (Justice Kagan did not participate.) AT&T argued that since Congress had defined "person" to include corporations, "personal privacy" rights should apply to a corporation. AT&T argued that the adjectival form of the defined word, personal, should refer to the defined word, person. 
Chief Justice Roberts gave AT& T a lesson on the the complexity and nuance of American English with some wry humor:
Adjectives typically reflect the meaning of corresponding nouns, but not always. Sometimes they acquire distinct meanings of their own. The noun "crab" refers variously to a crustacean and a type of apple, while the related adjective "crabbed" can refer to handwriting that is "difficult to read," Webster's Third New International Dictionary 527 (2002); "corny" can mean "using familiar and stereotyped formulas believed to appeal to the unsophisticated," id., at 509, which has little to do with "corn," id., at 507 ("the seeds of any of the cereal grasses used for food"); and while "crank" is "a part of an axis bent at right angles," "cranky" can mean "given to fretful fussiness," id., at 530.
In short, Chief Justice Roberts held that a corporation doesn't qualify for a "personal privacy" exemption under the law. 
"We trust that AT&T won't take it personally," he wrote.
The full opinion is available here.

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