Since joining the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986, Justice Antonin Scalia has been famous for his strident dissenting opinions. This year’s just-concluded term offered some of Justice Scalia’s most withering ripostes ever. For Scalia scholars, they yield further evidence that the justice is a fan of what we writers call rhyming reduplication.
Rhyming reduplication is, to offer an easy-peasy definition, a literary device in which a writer uses a root word twice, with only a minor change the second time. In the court’s June 25 opinion firmly rejecting a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Justice Scalia authored a scathing dissent in which he deemed the majority’s reasoning a “bit of interpretive jiggery-pokery,” an old-fashioned term meaning dishonest or suspicious activity.
The decision came almost two years to the day after Justice Scalia issued a dissent to an opinion striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in which he predicted that the ruling’s reasoning, “whatever disappearing trail of its legalistic argle-bargle one chooses to follow,” dictated that the court would next recognize the right of same-sex couples to legally marry.
Justice Scalia’s use of “argle-bargle,” which refers to a lively argument or disagreement, was perhaps a bit off, but his prediction was spot-on, as the court recognized just such a right the very day following his invocation of “jiggery-pokery.” Perhaps it’s something about equal protection jurisprudence that brings out Justice Scalia’s love of this delightful literary device.
And now our readers know all about rhyming reduplication. But don’t go throwing around the term willy-nilly in the hopes that you might razzle-dazzle folks with your vast literary knowledge—people might instead find you a bit hoity-toity.