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The Pro Hominem* Insult



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The New York Times reports that “[d]ozens of prominent Republicans” have signed a soon-to-be-filed amicus brief in the Prop 8 case arguing for a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. According to the article, “Legal analysts said the brief had the potential to sway conservative justices as much for the prominent names attached to it as for its legal arguments.”

That’s quite a damning assessment. No justice (or lower-court judge, for that matter) should be swayed by the “names attached” to an argument beyond the force of the argument itself. The signatories evidently believe otherwise (what else is the point of collecting names of “prominent Republicans,” many of whom have no recognized legal expertise?), and they are thus deeply insulting the very justices whom they are cultivating. Whether those justices recognize the insult is, alas, a different matter.

* Update: Thanks to the reader who has alerted me that the correct Latin phrase would be pro homine (and that in Latin rhetoric the ad hominem fallacy covers arguments based on either the merits or the defects of the advocate). For better or worse, pro hominem, as a back-formation from ad hominem, seems to have become commonly accepted in English.



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