"Rock & Roll Judges"

A fun article by Jeff Breinholt, describing how judges (and which judges) have been citing rock lyrics.


You can read the whole article here, with more details, citations, and analysis, but here is some of the data:

Here is a list of the top specific rock songs or lyrics cited by state and federal judges in court opinions:

  1. Bob Dylan, "You dn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"—16 opinions
  2. Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are A-Changin"—15 opinions
  3. The Beatles, "The Long and Winding Road"—8 opinions
  4. The Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"—7 opinions
  5. Simon and Garfunkel, "The Boxer"—6 opinions
  6. Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"—5 opinions
  7. The Beatles, "All You Need Is Love"—4 opinions
  8. Simon & Garfunkel, "The Sounds of Silence"—4 opinions
  9. The Byrds, "Turn, Turn, Turn"—3 opinions
  10. Elvis Costello, "Less Than Zero"—3 opinions

… Here are the rock artists who are spontaneously mentioned most often in court opinions without the references being to a particular song:

  1. The Beatles – 12 references
  2. Rolling Stones – 8 references
  3. Elvis Presley – 8 references
  4. Madonna – 5 references
  5. Bob Dylan – 4 references
  6. Michael Jackson – 4 references
  7. Hank Williams – 2 references
  8. Johnny Cash – 2 references
  9. Bruce Springsteen – 2 references
  10. Ray Charles – 2 references
  11. Frank Zappa – 2 references

Who Are These Judges?

If there is a single judge who stands out in rock references, it is Federal Magistrate Jonathan Goodman of the Southern District of Florida. Since 2010, Goodman dropped no fewer than 56 references to rock music or artist over the course of 33 judicial opinions. These opinions include references such subjects as Bob Dylan (9 references), the Beatles (6), and the Rolling Stones (3). Goodman has also cited the Allman Brothers, Bo Diddley, Bruce Springsteen, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Guns N Roses, Johnny Cash, the Kinks, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Madonna, Neil Young, REM, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Pink Floyd, Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Petty, U2, and the Yardbirds.

Goodman is a magistrate who is appointed by the courts in Florida, his likely political affiliation is not easy to establish. However, most federal judges (other than tax, bankruptcy and military judges) can easily be identified politically by the party of the President who appoints them.

Of the judges who serve on one of the various U.S. Courts of Appeal, a couple stand out:

  • The late Judge Terence Evans was appointed a district court judge in the Eastern District of Wisconsin by President Carter, and then promoted to the Seventh Circuit by President Clinton. He made references to the Drifters and Chuck Berry when he was a trial judge. As an appellate judge, before his death in 2011, he wrote opinions which spontaneously invoke Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan.
  • Judge James Dennis was appointed to the Fifth Circuit by President Clinton. He published an opinion that made references to the songs of Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and Johnny Cash.
  • Judge Andrew Kleinfeld was appointed a district judge for the District of Alaska by Reagan, and promoted to Ninth Circuit by George H.W. Bush. He has written four opinions which contain spontaneous references to the Beatles and Johnny Cash.
  • Judge Alex Kozinski, until his recent retirement, served on the Ninth Circuit, having been appointed by President Reagan. His opinions included references to Janis Joplin, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and the Talking Heads.
  • Judge Edward Carnes was appointed to the Eleventh Circuit by President George H.W. Bush. He has dropped written references to Bob Dylan and the Beatles.
  • Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the D.C. Circuit (a previous justice on the California Supreme Court) was appointed to by George W. Bush. She has cited the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix….

From these charts, one case see there are 38 Circuit Court and 76 District Court opinions where the judge's political affiliation is discernable. In the Circuit Courts, there are more Republican-authored opinions (21) than Democrat-authored (17). In the District Courts, the Democrat-authored opinions (50) outnumber the Republican-authored ones (26). This finding demonstrates that, though Democrat-appointed federal judges overall are more likely to drop a rock reference into their opinions, it is not as if Republican judges eschew this practice.

State Court Judges

Among state judges, the one who stands out is Philip S. Straniere in Richmond County, New York. Since 2004, he has written 12 opinions which refer to a number of rock artists: Bob Dylan (six opinions)

Elton John, Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Rolling Stones, and Simon and Garfunkel. Judge Straniere's rock references include truly strange paragraph, which he wrote in a credit card collection case.

This is another example of a presumed Grateful Dead entity Who has joined the Band of business Zombies, some of whom Ten Years After ceasing to exist are still executing documents and expecting the court to accept them with Blind Faith. The Association of these entities with accounts which are not the Cream of consumer credit transactions, has, after a lot of Blood, Sweat and Tears on the part of the court personnel examining the Grassroots of each file, disclosed many Kinks in getting to the Heart of the current process. Even a Strawberry Alarm Clock would not be enough to alert the clerks, who Love their work, to the Grand Funk being created by these Rascals and give Creedance to some of these filings. The Doors to potential abuse opened by these filings require the court to examine each application like Big Brother rather than accept them like some benevolent Queen. It's A Beautiful Day when these filings may be accepted without question. Perhaps that is what happens in places like Buffalo Springfield or Chicago.

Other noteworthy state judges include:

  • Judge Leo Strine is a vice chancellor on the Delaware Court of Chancery. His opinions have spontaneously referred to Elvis Costello, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry.
  • Judge Beth Baker is on the Montana Supreme Court. She has written opinions that invoke Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.
  • Judge Robert Chamberlin sits on the Mississippi Supreme Court. He has written court opinions which reference Johnny Cash and AC/DC.
  • Judge Huette F. Dowling of the Dauphine County, Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas issued opinions in the early 1980s that referred to the Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash.
  • Judge Stephen Fortunato served as a superior court judge in Providence, Rhode Island. He wrote court opinions with spontaneous references to Pink Floyd and Metallica.
  • Judge Glenn Harrell served on Maryland Court of Appeals, and wrote opinions that referred to the Beatles and the Grateful Dead.
  • Judge Michael C. Massengale is on the Texas Court of Appeals. He has authored opinions which refer to Dr. Dre and the Beatles.
  • Judge Douglas Nazarian was on Maryland Court of Special Appeals. He wrote an opinion which cited the Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, and Chuck Berry.
  • Martin Schoenfeld is a trial judge for the New York Supreme Court. He wrote an opinion which contained allusions to Black Sabbath, Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones.
  • Judge J. Fredric Voros served on the Utah Court of Appeals. He wrote two opinions which invoked Bob Dylan lyrics…

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  1. You know, writers and poets, and by extension the “poets” of today (rock/pop singers) distill folk wisdom of the ages that show up in song lyrics. These were discovered by them long before psychology started doing experiments and psychoanalysis, much of which is of dubious quality. There is a witty song lyric for every occasion, if you memorized enough.

    If you want to understand human nature, read the complete works of Shakespeare, or at least his sonnets for an overview, before you touch a psychology journal. It is no surprise to me, then, that judges quote song lyrics, though it may perhaps be a tiny bit unprofessional.

  2. Least likely to be cited:

    “I can’t Drive 55, by Sammy Hagar”

    “Their Law,” by the Prodigy

    “(bleep) the Police” by NWA

    “Breaking the Law,” by Judas Priest

    1. not bad, but you clearly forget “I fought the law (and I won)” by the Dead Kennedys

      1. I also forgot “D*&^, it feels good to be a gangsta,” by the Geto Boys.

        1. Don’t the clerks play that after the judge swings by late friday and says, “I’m gonna have to ask you to go ahead and come in on Saturday … probably Sunday too. Yeah.”

      2. “I Shot the Sheriff” by Marley

      3. One toke over the line…

      4. I thought you meant “I Fought the Law and the Law Won” by the Bobby Fuller Four.

    2. ….to add to your list:

      “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine

    3. “I shot the Sheriff”, Bob Marley

  3. Let’s also not forget Kagan’s reference to Tommy Tutone’s “Jenny” in American Trucking Ass’n. v. City of Los Angeles:

    “Under that contract, a company may transport cargo at the Port in exchange for complying with various requirements. The two directly at issue here compel the company to (1) affix a placard on each truck with a phone number for reporting environmental or safety concerns (You’ve seen the type: “How am I driving? 213?867?5309”) and (2) submit a plan listing off-street parking locations for each truck when not in service.

    1. I got it, I got it, I got it
      I got your number on the wall
      I got it, I got it, I got it
      Call this number for a good long haul

      1. I miss being able to up-vote comments.

    2. Pro-Tip: I hear that, if you are shopping in a store with some sort of membership that offers discounts, but you haven’t signed up, you can ask them to look up your membership using the telephone number (local area code) 867-5309 since someone inevitably uses that number to sign up.

    3. Pro-Tip: I hear that, if you are shopping in a store with some sort of membership that offers discounts, but you haven’t signed up, you can ask them to look up your membership using the telephone number (local area code) 867-5309 since someone inevitably uses that number to sign up.

  4. Pop culture rather than rock, but I loved a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals referring to Harry Potter’s “extendable ears” in an opinion.

  5. Glad to see S&G represent.

  6. This had to be a cut and paste, as there’s no way that Eugene Volokh of all people would misspell Kozinski as “Kozinsky.”

    1. They’re cousinsky, with different spellings.

  7. I’ll allow Dr. Evil to speak for me on this phenomenon.

  8. Well, I was just another judge on the bench
    On the road handing down my decisions
    Lawyers for my sake trying to keep awake
    As I hand down my rulings with precision
    No, I don’t make as much as private practice
    I barely make enough to survive
    But once my gavel comes down I can go to town
    And really come alive.

    Rock and roll judge
    Everybody’s waitin’
    Gettin’ crazy
    Anticipating my next ruling
    Play, play, play, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

    Tappin’ my heels underneath my robe
    I’m getting pretty good at the game
    People stood in line and didn’t seem to mind
    That keep dropping rock-song names
    Citin’ that rock-n-roll music
    Never worried ’bout the songs I was dissing
    When I called court to order, approached propriety’s border
    Everybody’d listen.

    Rock and roll judge
    Everybody’s waitin’
    Gettin’ crazy
    Anticipating my next ruling
    Play, play, play, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

  9. “9. The Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn” – 3 opinions…”

    Is there a reason why this song is credited to The Byrds? Pete Seeger wrote it and had been performing it for a decade before The Byrds popularized it. I mean, when judges have made reference to it, do they specify the name of the performers? If not, wouldn’t it make more sense to credit the name of the person/group that wrote and first performed it?

    1. “before The Byrds popularized it.”

      You answered your own question.

      “wouldn’t it make more sense to credit the name of the person/group that wrote and first performed it?”

      No. If I say Respect, by Aretha Franklin, pretty much everyone knows which song I’m talking about (except for those damn kids always messing about on my lawn, and nobody cares about them). If I say Respect, by Otis Redding, that number goes way down even though he wrote it and performed it first. I think attributing a pop culture reference to the person/group that made it popular is eminently sensible.

      1. I take back my original objection. (Not for the reason jph stated, although I agree with his point.) I posted without reading the linked article. Now that I have seen it; what the article did was search judge’s opinions looking for citations. So, if the judge cited to the Byrds instead of Pete Seeger, then of course that is what will–and should!!!–show up in the article.

        But it does seem weird to me that a judge will refer to a popular song in an opinion, make a point of crediting a performer, but make a conscious decision to not credit the “original source.” I guess this is the musical equivalent of deciding to avoid string citations.

    2. So, King Solomon?

      1. Ghostwritten by his advisor Hiram Abiff, I learned this at…aaaack…

    3. If not, wouldn’t it make more sense to credit the name of the person/group that wrote and first performed it?


      It makes more sense to credit who had the biggest hit or the most recurring re-use of it in a commercial/movie etc

      “Wild Thing” was written by Chip Taylor (Angelina Jolie’s uncle), first recorded by a NYC band, The Wild Ones, before the Troggs released it and it rocketed to #1. Every subsequent version is essentially a Troggs’ cover.

      “Hound Dog” was written by Lieber and Stoller, recorded by Big Mama Thornton and was an R&B hit but the Elvis Presley cover is the iconic version and is in the ” Top 40 bestselling singles in the history of recorded music”.

  10. How about judges who quote from opera? Any of those? One of the worst things about Scalia was his terrible taste in music; he liked Puccini which is vapid, empty noise.

  11. And that Nisi Prius nuisance, who just now is rather rife,
    The Judicial rock lyricist ? I’ve got him on the list!

    /Adapted from Gilbert and Sullivan, The Mikado

  12. How could you possibly keep out Justice Kagan’s reference to the Tommy Tutone song!!!!

  13. I’m guessing Chancellor William B. Chandler III of the Delaware Court of Chancery didn’t qualify for this list because his opinions tend to quote rap music rather than strictly rock music, but that distinction seems a bit dubious to me in this particular context.

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