Few matters tackled in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reach unanimous agreement throughout the country. Fortunately, certain foundational beliefs unite us. Respect for the rule of law? A desire to promote and preserve justice? Sure. But more importantly, we can all agree that Game of Thrones ended disappointingly.
Judge John B. Owens reminds us of this universal truth by peppering his opinions with Game of Thrones references. His latest came on July 5:
Northern would like us to read Dabit without considering its clarification in Troice. But we will not render Troice meaningless the way that Game of Thrones rendered the entire Night King storyline meaningless in its final season.
Judge Owens’ reference to Game of Thrones’ supernatural MacGuffin is not the only time he used HBO’s worldwide television hit to drive home a point. Judge Owens wrote a concurring opinion in 2016 to warn in Flores v. City of San Gabriel that the majority’s interpretation of relevant caselaw was close to a “qyburnian resurrection” of a rejected standard. Qyburn, as if we needed reminding, is the disgraced evil mastermind behind the Frankenstein-like resurrection of one of Game of Thrones’ villains, The Mountain.
For those who have never watched, the final season was widely criticized. A petition to “Remake Game of Thrones Season 8 with competent writers” on www.change.org had over a million signatures before the last episode even aired. Perhaps Judge Owens was among the signatories.
Are Pop Culture References in Judicial Opinions Valid?
Judge Owens is not the first to reference television and movies in opinions. Courts have even given name to the “Sgt. Schultz Defense” after the know-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing sergeant from Hogan’s Heroes. In one legendary Order Denying Motion for Incomprehensibility, a bankruptcy judge referenced an early Adam Sandler movie, Billy Madison, in the following footnote:
At no point in your rambling, incoherent response was there anything that could even be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
And you thought Game of Thrones was dark.
Seinfeld remains perhaps the leading pop culture television reference in opinions. Such references can liven up otherwise dry content and render a point more forceful. However, it does run the risk of the reader completely missing the reference, and therefore the underlying point. You might end up asking, “what’s the deal with . . .?”
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