The eighth circle judges don’t respect pronouns due to their lack of writing expertise and decency
Once again, a federal appellate body went to great lengths to refuse to accept a litigant’s preferred pronouns. As Appealing reported on a recent eighth circuit ruling by Judge Steven M. Colloton (a W. Bush judge in place of a Trump judge for a change, though notoriously unqualified Trump judge L. Steven Grasz, plus another W. nominee in Judge Bobby Shepherd), who takes up the appeal of a stalking belief to get philosophical about how difficult it is to use the defendant’s preferred pronouns.
As the submissions show in this case, clarity suffers and confusion can arise when a single person is referred to as “they” in legal writing, especially when the materials advertise other actors who are traditionally naturally referred to as “they” or “they” are referred to as plural.
Yes, it would obscure all but the damn context. If the use of a particular pronoun occasionally leads to an awkward sentence – “they” can admittedly slap in the ear when paired with “being” – there are many alternative formulations from “Thomason is” to “the accused is” to “The complainant” is “until” the prisoner is. “Other contexts are no less easy to resolve. The phrase” Thomason argues that his conviction … “can easily be rewritten as” Thomason argues that this conviction … “or” the immediate conviction … “, if the court cannot deal with “their conviction”, although the latter formulation would be quite obvious from the context.
It is bizarre to think that the court would have trouble because the singular “she” is used in common parlance all the time, regardless of a person’s pronouns. Americans use “them” to constantly describe the actions of individuals. And it’s neither inappropriate nor new. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the singular “she” back to 1375. It feels like every time someone gets on a high horse for “new” inappropriate English, it turns out to be acceptable all along and only fallen because of some unjustified pontificate from the 18th century.
The argument in favor of the panel is that Thomason allegedly adopted these pronouns mid-trial and attempted to use the fact that the record reflected him / her in earlier stages as a basis for a prosecution complaint for wrongdoing. However, this argument could be rejected without belittling the accused’s new preferential pronouns. Simply say, “The defendant’s request is denied because, having seen the defendant’s preferred pronouns, the prosecution has made every effort to accommodate the defendant’s request and we believe that was sufficient.” There is no need to go deeper into the subject.
There are just so many ways to arrange a cohesive sentence. Wordsmithing is as much an art as a science, and if Judges Colloton and the Eighth Circle can’t hack it, maybe someone can set up some remedial writing exercises. Justice Gorsuch is able to honor pronouns so the rest of the judiciary can catch up.
However, this gives the panel the benefit of the doubt that this protest is really about grammar. Unfortunately, the opinion leaves the clear impression that it is less about clarity and more about showing the utmost disrespect to someone who does not adhere to a certain vision of the world for cookie cutters.
Joe Patrice is Senior Editor at Above the Law and co-moderator of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter for all the law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe is also the managing director of RPN Executive Search.