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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Where did the Supreme Court get its ‘parade of horribles’?

How an obscure Fourth of July custom from New England spawned a legal-world insult

While the nation anxiously awaited Thursday’s Supreme Court decision on President Obama’s health care legislation, many lay observers wondered just what was taking so long—after all, oral arguments finished in March. But in such a high-profile case, National Journal health care correspondent Margot Sanger-Katz explained, judicial writing takes a long time: “Justices are more likely to write in dissent, use rhetorical flourishes, or provide a detailed parade of horribles that will result from the majority’s view.”

That expression, “parade of horribles,” has special resonance in the legal world, typically as a put-down used by one side in a dispute to dismiss opponents’ concerns about a ruling’s negative effects. It even became the subject of a brief squabble among the Supreme Court justices during the “Obamacare” hearings. Lawyerly types in government use it, too: When the George W. Bush administration was setting the groundwork to invade Iraq a decade ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld prepared a memo listing all the possible things that could go wrong. His hawkish undersecretary Douglas Feith dubbed the memo “The Parade of Horribles.”

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