Antonin Scalia, Boring Stuff, English Grammar and Usage, Supreme Court

The “S” Clash: Scalia’s Position Explained

apostrophe s.gifHere’s a brief update to our post from yesterday, concerning the divergence among Supreme Court justices over whether to include a second “s” at the end of the possessive form of a proper noun already ending in “s.” E.g., Kansas’ or Kansas’s.
Justice Thomas says no (“Kansas'”), while Justice Souter says yes (“Kansas’s”). We’re with Justice Souter on this one — as is Steve Dillard, although it pains him to admit it.
Justice Scalia appears to flip flop on the question. Jonathan Starble of the Legal Times offered a theory to explain Justice Scalia’s approach: “He believes the extra ‘s’ should be omitted if the existing ‘s’ is preceded by a hard consonant sound.”
We did some poking around, and Starble’s theory is essentially correct. Past clerks tried to convince Justice Scalia to use the “s” no matter how it sounds (unless a plural possessive is involved, in which case only the apostrophe is needed). This is Justice Souter’s view, Strunk and White’s view, and our view as well.
But Justice Scalia consulted Fowler’s, and he could find no rule to this effect. So he declined to follow the clerkly counsel. Instead, he “goes by the ear,” or by how it sounds: If it sounds ugly, then add only the apostrophe; if it sounds okay, then add the “s” as well.
Generally we’re all in favor of making decisions based on aesthetic considerations. But in this case, we respectfully dissent.
Gimme an ‘S': The High Court’s Grammatical Divide [Legal Times]
Mark This Date Down [Southern Appeal]
Earlier: Read This Only If You’re a Grammar Nerd

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