Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd., released this week, the
Supreme Court managed to expend 21 pages (25 if you count the
syllabus) in a 6-3 opinion with dissent on a monumental question,
Whether "compensation of interpreters" under The Court
Interpreters Act (yes, Virginia there is a Court Interpreters Act)
covers the cost of translating documents.
Answer: No. The common meaning of "interpreter" is
someone who translates the spoken word.
After the jump some thoughts on why Supreme Court clerks should
have their word processors confiscated.
Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion, and the analysis is
sound enough. In the absence of a definition by Congress, the
answer to the question turned on the common meaning of the word
"interpreter," which could be divined by consulting a
collection of dictionaries dating from the time the statute
The OED and others included a definition that would include
document translation, but the majority was not prepared to accept
definitions that were designated as secondary or obsolete in
determining a "common" meaning.
Many dictionaries in use when Congress enacted the Court
Interpreters Act in 1978 defined "interpreter" as one who
translates spoken, as opposed to written, language. . . .(mind
numbing dictionary quotes omitted) . . .
Pre-1978 legal dictionaries also generally defined the words
"interpreter" and "interpret" in terms of oral
translation. . . . (more mind numbing dictionary quotes) . . .
Against these authorities, respondent relies almost exclusively
on Webster's Third New International Dictionary (hereinafter
Webster's Third). The version of that dictionary in print when
Congress enacted the Court Interpreters Act defined
"interpreter" as "one that translates; esp: a person
who translates orally for parties conversing in different
tongues." Webster's Third 1182 (1976). The sense divider
esp (for especially) indicates that the most common meaning of the
term is one "who translates orally," but that meaning is
subsumed within the more general definition "one that
The dissent, in contrast, was prepared to accept such secondary
or obsolete definitions:
The word "interpreters," the Court emphasizes,
commonly refers to translators of oral speech. . . . . But as the
Court acknowledges, . . . "interpreters" is more than
occasionally used to encompass those who translate written speech
as well. . . . (mind numbing parenthetical cites omitted) . . .
In short, employing the word "interpreters" to
includetranslators of written as well as oral speech, if not
"the most common usage," . . . is at least an
"acceptable" usage . . .
But really: 25 pages? On taxable costs?
Adam Liptak of the New York Times has observed that Supreme
Court Opinions are getting longer without necessarily becoming
better or more helpful. Taniguchi may be a different problem, but
Three pages on the facts of the case which have no impact on
Three pages on the history of taxable costs back to 1793?
Writing a dissent on this issue at all? Is that necessary?
The terse and yet eloquent Justice Holmes is spinning in his
I don't see this a doctrinal problem on the court, only an
issue of judgment and technology. Just because something is easy to
write doesn't mean it should be put down on paper or that
anybody wants to read it.
Law review wonks and Supreme Court clerks should be forced to
write long hand on a legal pad before being issued a government
word processor. Excess verbosity is nothing a little writer's
cramp wouldn't cure.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
In a recent decision characterizing precedent as a seven decade "aberration," the Supreme Court of California permitted plaintiff loan borrowers to introduce against a defendant banking institution parol evidence directly contradicting the very terms of the parties’ written loan agreement.