Judicial Rhetoric: Whose words are the most immortal?

June 13, 2011

I recently ran across a case citing to the “immortal words” of so-and-so.  That phrase caught my interest, and I wondered what else has been cited by judges as sounding in immortality.

Categorically speaking, judges seem to think that most immortal words are spoken by other judges.  Judge Cardozo, Judge Learned Hand, and Justice Marshall appear to be the most immortally-quoted members of the judiciary.  Presidents are also a popular source, with Abraham Lincoln taking the lead, largely thanks to the Gettysburg Address.

But for the individual award, the title for Most Immortal goes to the eminent scholar of life … Yogi Berra.

Here are a few choice “immortal” quotations:

President Harry Truman:  The buck stops here.

William ShakespeareWho steals my purse steals trash; … ‘Twas mine, ‘tis his, and has been slave to thousands; but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.

Sir William PittThe poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England can not enter; all his force dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!

Judge Terence EvansWe live in a world of deadlines. If we’re late for the start of the game or the movie, or late for the departure of the plane or the train, things go forward without us. The practice of law is no exception. A good judge sets deadlines, and the judge has a right to assume that deadlines will be honored. The flow of cases through a busy district court is aided, not hindered, by adherence to deadlines.   Spears v. City of Indianapolis, 74 F.3d 153, 157 (7th Cir.1996) 

Judge Benjamin CardozoNegligence in the air, so to speak, will not do.  Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 341, 162 N.E. 99, 99 (1928)

Yogi Berra:  It’s deja vu all over again.

For the full list of “immortal words” cases on Westlaw.com, click here to run a search in ALLCASES.