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Law Professor's Article on Pronunciation of 'Certiorari' Goes Viral

By Rachel Smith | June 26, 2014

Regent Law Professor James Duane in the classroom

When The Green Bag, a journal known for featuring humorous legal articles, published "The Proper Pronunciation of Certiorari: The Supreme Court's Surprising Six-Way Split," Regent University School of Law professor James Duane didn't expect major legal news outlets to make his article headline news.

The article uncovers inconsistences in the pronunciation of "certiorari," an order that allows a higher court to request a lower court's records. The confusion is a classic case of poh-tay-toh/poh-tah-toh: there seems to be more than one way to say it, and no one has standardized the pronunciation.

When researching, Duane consulted legal dictionaries, but only found inconsistencies. Then he turned to recordings of 13 modern Supreme Court justices speaking in court. Ideally, to save face, a lawyer should mimic the Supreme Court justices' pronunciation, but it turns out that their pronunciations are inconsistent too.

The article has gone viral in the legal world. It was the topic of several National Law Journal articles. One, "No Video, But Here's Audio of How Justices Say 'Certiorari,'" includes audio files of six Supreme Court Justices pronouncing the word.

It was a headline story and one of the "most read items" in the ABA Journal, and Ed Wheland wrote about it in a National Review blog post. Adam Liptak, a Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times, even tweeted about it. Ann Althouse, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, picked up the topic in her eponymous blog.

"I was of course hoping that somebody might notice my work on this, but I did not expect the item to attract quite this much attention so quickly," Duane said.

"Perhaps critics of the Supreme Court on both the right and the left love the idea of anything that makes it appear that the justices on the Court cannot get their story straight," he noted. "If this mounting wave of interest keeps up, the piece might even come to their attention as well."

Duane is a member of Regent Law's distinguished faculty that is ranked among the top 10 in the nation by The Princeton Review. He is the co-author of Weissenberger's Federal Evidence, and is a contributing editor of Black's Law Dictionary. He has been interviewed about legal matters on television and radio, including National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

This is not the first time Duane has gone viral. In the spring of 2008, he gave a talk at Regent about the reasons why even innocent criminal suspects should never agree to answer questions from the police, and that talk has now been viewed more than 5,000,000 times on YouTube.

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