Opinion: Maybe he’ll mention Brainiac in the next high-tech case

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As a former comic-book nerd, I did a double-take the other day as I perused the transcript of a recent oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices were considering the case of Gall v. U.S., in which a judge sentenced a reformed Ecstasy dealer to probation rather than the prison term suggested by sentencing guidelines.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested to the defendant’s lawyer that jail time might have been appropriate because, while his client had left the drug conspiracy, he hadn’t blown the whistle on his co-conspirators.

The lawyer replied: “Justice Ginsburg, when someone leaves the conspiracy and blows the whistle, typically that individual is not charged...”

“I’m sure that’s not always true,” Chief Justice John Roberts interjected. “I mean, if the leader of some vast conspiracy is the one who blows the whistle, I suspect he may well be charged anyway.”


“Lex Luthor might,” added Justice Antonin Scalia.

Lex Luthor? Superman’s nemesis — and Superboy’s in Smallville, TV’s teenage angst take on the Superman mythos? Could Nino Scalia be a regular viewer? Or maybe he took in the recent Superman Returns film.

If so, he might have been returning to his own childhood in the 1940s, when comic books were sold in candy stores, not in comic shops. Perhaps it was then that Luthor (the Lex came later) became Scalia’s template for villainy.

As Bradford Wright notes in Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of a Youth Culture in America, comic books “have helped to frame a worldview and define a sense of self for the generations that have grown up with them.” Even Supreme Court justices.

Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, Warner Bros. Pictures. Lex Luthor menaces Superman, Curt Swan and George Klein, DC Comics.