“Everyone needs an editor,”a veteran editor advised me. I count that among the most useful advice I encountered in a lengthy career. It is pertinent not only for journalists. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia could have benefited the other day from a fresh pair of eyes reviewing his written reaction to something President Obama said at a news conference, presidential comments which were totally outside the record of the case. Scalia added that a portion of the court’s immigration opinion “boggles the mind.”
Scalia’s rebuttal of press conference remarks raises a question: Who copy edits high court opinions? Among the most valuable contributions of a copy editor is to ask questions. Even a cursory reading of Scalia’s opinion should have prompted a question: Since when is a president’s press conference comments relevant to a court case? Any skilled copy editor would have raised that question.
Nor would a good copy editor allow “boggles the mind” to go unchallenged. The cliché is so tired it was ready for the retirement home long ago. Justice Scalia is fond of colorful speech, and it is refreshing to have him depart from the usual drab high court jargon, so “boggles the mind” must have been a relapse. With or without a high court copy editor, it’s possible to be plain spoken, accurate and relevant.