Anita Krishnakumar posts at Concurring Opinions on November 2 about a Supreme Court judgment by Justice Anthony Kennedy that turned quite crucially on the distinction between active and passive voice in the language of criminal statutes, only (you're ahead of me already aren't you, Language Log readers?) Justice Kennedy doesn't know his passive from a hole in the ground, so the claims made are nonsense. I see no way to read what he says that does not involve assuming that he thinks if serious bodily injury results and if death injury results are passive clauses. And the point is a general one, crucially tied to grammar: Kennedy thinks that in general "criminal statutes use the active voice to define prohibited conduct" and use the passive voice to specify mere sentencing factors associated therewith, and courts should pay attention to that distinction. Only there isn't a distinction in the statute he cites. I won't go on about it, since a couple of sensible commenters do my work for me right after the post, citing Language Log, where so many posts have been devoted to this topic (I aggregate them for reference here). But heavens above: You can get to be a Supreme Court justice, and write about actives and passives, without having any clue how that distinction is normally defined by grammarians, and without giving any alternative definition? Could we perhaps organize a few lunches at which linguistics department chairs meet with law school deans or something?
[Hat tip: Garrett Wollman.]