Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Punctuation question

Oh noble CAAFlog readers. I have a question for you. Let's say I want to refer to the joint opinion of Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). Now let's suppose I want to construct the sentence using the possessive case. Which is right:

(a) Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter's joint opinion in Casey; or
(b) Justices O'Connor's, Kennedy's, and Souter's joint opinion in Casey?

I had long used the latter construction, reasoning that it better alerts the reader that I am using the possessive case. (I would make an exception where more than one possessor is commonly understood as one entity -- thus, I would write, for example, "Lewis and Clark's expedition" rather than "Lewis's and Clark's expedition.")

While I have traditionally used form b, I have noticed in my reading that almost everyone else seemed to use form a. And I couldn't find the answer in any of the grammar books that I usually consult. I was almost ready to throw in the towel and submit to the apparent form a orthodoxy. So imagine my delight upon reading the new biography of Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (whose writing I adore) and discovering the following description of Edmond Malone: "He became a friend of James Boswell's and Samuel Johnson's . . . ." Bill Bryson, Shakespeare: The World as Stage 175 (2007).

So which is right? And, most importantly, does anyone have a citation to an authoritative grammar text's answer to the question?


Anonymous said...

I vote "A". I believe "elements of style" addresses use of apostrophe for possessive compound nouns.

John O'Connor said...

I also vote "A". My recollection from the Texas Manual of Style is that you would use "B" if the three Justices each had their own opinion and you were making a common point about their separate opinions. But where, as here, the three of themk "possess' a single opinion, I believe "A" is the right call.

My Texas Manual of Style is at home so I can't give you a cite.

Rich McWilliams said...

"The joint opinion of Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter." When in doubt, change the sentence. (Has Bryan Garner taught us nothing?)

Anonymous said...

Remarkably, a Texas Manual for Style is in my office and is the same as my recollection for the "elements of style". Rule 1.1

Jason Grover said...

Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition:

5.27, "If two or more nouns share possession, the last noun takes the possessive ending. For example, Peter and Harriet's correspondence refers to the correspondence between Peter and Harriet. If two or more nouns possess something separately, each noun takes its own possessive ending. For example, Peter's and Harriet's correspondence refers to Peter's correspondence and also to Harriet's correspondence.

B is correct.

Nelson's Right Eye said...

Stillman's "Grammatically Correct" notes that for separate possession, make each noun possessive but for joint possession, make only the last noun possessive. Joint possession, albeit in a different context, is also addressed in para. 37 of Part IV, MCM.

Anonymous said...

Neither is right. It is disrespectful to ever refer to a Justice of the Supreme Court by only their last name. Wherever you put the possessive apostrophe, it should be Justice O'Connor, Justice Kennedy and Justice Souter.

Jason Grover said...

Interesting point about the proper why to refer to Supreme Court Justices, but doesn't the Supreme Court itself, in its opinions, often refer to the Justices like this:

"ROBERTS, C. J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and II, in which SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts III and IV, in which ALITO, J., joined. ALITO, J., filed a concurring opinion. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which KENNEDY and THOMAS, JJ., joined. SOUTER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined."

From FEC v. Wis Right to Life, Inc., 127 S. Ct. 2652 (2007).

It seems that your rule is the better practice, but if the Justices don't follow it themselves, I am not sure how hard and fast it is. Do you have a cite for that rule?

John O'Connor said...

Jason Grover:

I think the Chicago Manual is functionally the same as the Texas Manual, but I believe's you're applying it wrong. The three Justices jointly possess the opinion, as it is their joint product. So "A" is correct.

"Tom and Mary's cars" means that Tom and Mary jointly possess more than one car.

"Tom's and Mary's cars" means that Tom owns one or more cars and Mary owns one or more cars, but they are different cars (not jointly owned).

I think that's what both the Texas the Chicago manuals recommend.

Phil Cave said...

Did you want English or American?

Change the sentence.

No Man said...

Someone please post something, anything to get this discussion off the top line of CAAFlog! Now that is the proper use of an exclamation point.

Gene Fidell said...

I'd want to know what Strunk & White's answer is.

CAAFlog said...

It isn't disrespectful to write, "Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter." On the contrary, it is the prevailing academic style.

Consider the November 2006 issue of the Harvard Law Review, which sets the style for legal academic discourse. In a discussion of Jones v. Flowers, 126 S. Ct. 1708 (2006), the HLR editors write: "Chief Justice Roberts broke with fellow conservative Justices Scalia and Thomas, providing the deciding vote in siding with Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer." Leading Cases, 120 Harv. L. Rev. 233, 243 (2006). Nor would that sentence be improved by adding the word "Justice" to it four times. In the likely event that some or all of the named Justices read this commentary, I doubt any was offended by being included with the other named "Justices."

This style isn't aimed merely at the Judicial Branch. Consider this from the December 2006 issue of the HLR: "See Kelley, supra note 17, at 11, 18-19 (discussing the use of presidential signing statements by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton) . . . ." Note, Context-Sensitive Deference to Presidential Signing Statements, 120 Harv. L. Rev. 597, 600 n.19 (2006).

And, yes, members of the Legislative Branch receive similar treatment. Here's another excerpt from the November 2006 issue of the HLR: "Indeed, during hearings held by the United States Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water on the possible impact of the Rapanos decision, two of the three Republicans who presented statements at the hearing, Senators Lisa Murkowski and James Inhofe, argued in their opening statements for a larger role for states in wetlands regulation, while the two Democrats who presented statements, Senators Hillary Clinton and Frank Lautenberg, and the one Democratic-leaning independent who presented a statement, Senator James Jeffords, argued for preserving the federal role on environmental protection grounds." Leading Cases, 120 Harv. L. Rev. 351, 357 n.69 (2006).

Justin said...

All insightful.

Not insightful (predictably) is the Bryson quote at the end of the post, which should read, "...friend of James Boswell and Samuel Johnson."

With "of," the possessives become superfluous.