Judging Batman and Superman

Today I have something a little different, a draft of a paper by Jeremy Greenberg titled Batman v. Superman: Let the Courts Decide, 33 Quinnipiac L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2014).  Mr. Greenberg analyzed 1449 mentions of Superman, Batman, Bruce Wayne, and Clark Kent in US state and federal court cases to determine how judges used references to these characters to explain their decisions.  After weeding out false positives such as actual people named Bruce Wayne, intellectual property decisions about the character of Superman, and statements made by witnesses, Greenberg was left with 55 references in the judicial opinions themselves.

Mr. Greenberg’s analysis of the common themes in the references is interesting, as is the underlying data.  I won’t reveal any more than that, lest I spoil some of the surprises.  Go check it out!

3 responses to “Judging Batman and Superman

  1. Reading the paper, I wonder if sometimes judges get so bored by the tedious details of their work that they enjoy finding ways to bring more interesting topics into their decisions.

    In any case, interesting. I wonder how many other courts, especially the highest court of the land, in other nations make reference to fictional characters.

    • I took a quick look at UK cases and found a few references. For example, from a personal injury case from the Isle of Wight:

      It was [a five year old child] on the swings by himself and he decided, as children will, that when he got to one end of the swing, as it were with his feet up in the air, to jump off. Whether you think that you are Superman, Batman or whatever, that is hazardous.”

      Simonds v. Isle of Wight Council, [2003] EWHC 2303 (Qb).

      UK cases are odd by American standards in that they often include snippets of court dialogue and interjected commentary from other judges on the panel (as opposed to wholly separate concurrences and dissents). Here’s one case referencing Superman in that latter context, in a case in which a man accused of a crime sued a newspaper for publishing allegedly defamatory and prejudicial material about him:

      Elson Rees for the applicant. The article makes the applicant appear to be a man of violence, whereas, in fact, that is not his character, and, therefore, it is plainly prejudicial to him in his appeal. … In this case, particularly in regard to the appeal against sentence, nothing could be more prejudicial to the applicant, nor embarrassing to the court, than the contents of this article. [LORD PARKER C.J. Judges are not superhuman, but do you have to be a superman to put articles such as this out of your mind?]

      R. v Duffy Ex p. Nash, [1960] 2 Q.B. 188, 190.

      • Jeremy Greenberg

        Without reading more of the context from R. v Duffy Ex p. Nash, I don’t think that I would have classified that reference as an allusion to DC Comics’ Superman. It seems more like a reference to Nietzsche’s generic superman ideal. I would also assume Superman would have not penetrated into the mindset of a Law Lord in 1960.

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