The Court

The Supreme Court of the United States—the highest court in the U.S.—makes decisions that can affect everyday lives of many Americans and the course of this nation.

The Supreme Court, 2009:

One might appreciate the fierce (or dry, depending on your perspective) exchanges of constitutional arguments among the top contemporary legal minds. Unfortunately, indulging on such on C-SPAN is not a possibility since cameras are not allowed in the Court (John Oliver of Last Week Tonight highlighted this).

However, recordings and transcripts are available to the public and easily accessible, and projects like Oyez project, which presents the oral arguments with interactive transcript and audio, put some life into the otherwise inanimate records.

One might expect that laughter would be rare in the solemn Court. However, despite the gravity of the matters handled, humors and laughters—regardless of the original intents—are not absent:

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: "It's peanut butter and honey sometimes."
The audience: "[Laughter.]"
From Marx v. General Revenue Corp.

In fact, this topic has been covered by media and study (a follow up).

Chasing after the Supreme Laughters

So what's under the Supreme Laughters? How many are there? In order to answer, we can utilize publicly available data (for this posting, data from 1955-2015 were used). There are many exciting/interesting things to do with the information, but today I focused solely on the laughters in the Court. The source of the data is Oyez.

How many laughters?

The occurrences of laughters can be extracted from the oral argument transcripts. Here's a plot of yearly average laughter per case:

yearly average laughter per case

With standard error:

yearly average laughter per case with standard error

Who is the Chief Supreme Laughter Generator?

Given his colorful personality and his time in the Court, it's not a surprise that Justice Scalia has generated a large number of laughters in the Court. Here is a plot of total laughters induced for each justice (during 1955-2016 terms):

This plot is the same as above but the number of total laughters was divided by the length served in the Court:

For non-justices, former Solicitor General Seth Waxman leads the number:

a plot of laughter induced by non-justices. Seth Waxman has the highest total laughters

Here's the total number of laughters induced grouped by each appointer/President:

plot of number of laughters induced grouped by each appointer/President

The same as above but normalized with the total time of served in the Court by the perspective justices:

Which case?

Which case has the most laughters? With 20 occurrences, the top is U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton.
Table of top 20 cases:

Case Duration(s) Number of Laughters
93-1456 5225.770 20
88-155 3388.500 19
01-1015 3737.499 16
91-119 3489.174 15
03-1116 3658.679 15
95-2074 4175.282 14
13-7451 3526.237 14
02-428 3733.865 14
98-131 3450.809 13
98-1161 3677.550 13
96-843 3723.598 13
03-1407 3496.943 13
02-695 3440.035 13
99-5739 3562.314 12
98-387 3534.371 12
96-5955 3567.937 12
94-12 3497.863 12
76-1701 4157.228 12
75-1453 3542.700 12
14-114 5098.140 12