What's so special about sarcasm

Unpopular form of communication: sarcasm for lawyers


While the recently various US federal judge Scalia was still known for his cutting and sarcastic remarks, the German judiciary is more concerned with maintaining composure. Verbal tips seem frowned upon in the local industry.

The judge Antonin Scalia (1936-2016), who was appointed for life, recently died on the occasion of a hunting party, and thus also the end of his activity as a conservative assessor at the US Supreme Court. In an ideal world, ironic, even sarcastic, condolences from the hunted fauna would be expected if sarcasm and the related styles and expressions of sardonism and irony were not deeply human abilities.

It is questionable how a very special type of person, the lawyer, reacts to the use of sarcasm. The US federal judge Scalia is particularly suitable as a starting point for the presentation, as he is - as far as we know - the only lawyer who has ever given rise to special sarcasm studies.

Sarcasm statistics as irrelevant jurisprudence

The Californian professor of political science and law, Richard L. Hasen - in Germany one would speak of a constitutional law teacher and forbid any name joke on the occasion of Scalia's passing - deserves the merit of introducing sarcasm research into law.

Hasen scoured prominent US judicial databases for sarcasm suspicious phrases in US Supreme Court rulings in 2013, going back to 1986. 1986 was the year in which Ronald Reagan, a US president who at the time became world famous for his humorous achievements, appointed Scalia as associate judge at the US Supreme Court.

Here, for example, the conservative lawyer declared in a dissenting vote that the opinion of the majority of judges "vandalized the traditions of our people". In another vote, Scalia introduced his dissenting view with the following nasty slavery: "Today's story is so blatantly wrong that to confess to believe in it humiliates this court. But based on these facts is an obviously incorrect conclusion another relatively benign judicial mischief [...]. "

According to Hasen's analysis, the recently deceased judge was relatively productive in making such statements: Of the 134 sarcasms that Hasen has been able to identify among Supreme Court judges since 1986, 75 were due to Scalia. Only very far behind were the judges Stevens with nine, Blackmun and Rehnquist with eight sarcasms each. Even in terms of years of office, Scalia remained unbeaten at the top of the sarcastic judges' statements.

Sarcasm competence in Germany? A search for clues

A comparable evaluation is not known for Germany. Certainly this has to do with the higher objectivity of the German judiciary, whose armed forces also include "the most objective authority in the world". Before they are trained in their objectivity by the public prosecutor's days, prospective lawyers are threatened by sarcasm themselves, as not only countless stories of creepy oral state exams show, but also judicial statements on how to deal with sarcasm.

The judgment of the Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG) of July 17, 1987 (Az. 7 C 118.86) can be read, for example, as evidence that sarcastic state examination examiners do not have to accept a general assumption that their assessments are inaccurate.

A law student who had previously been a law student who had failed to put sufficient performance on paper in the first state examination had complained. His written work had apparently been provided with "strong expressions" by the examiners, but no judge was really offended. The fact that he had unsuccessfully criticized "malice, cynicism, sarcasm and human contempt" - also in the oral examination - before the administrative court and the higher administrative court was of no interest to the BVerwG as a "factual" assessment. At least it allowed the candidate to repeat the oral exam because he was interviewed extensively for up to ten minutes about the geography of the African state of Mali at the first attempt. So should sarcasm be allowed towards examinees?