Disgruntled litigants always like to think of judges as distant figures living in a fantasy world. Last night at a mock trial at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel A Alito Jr. lived up to that perception. They were part of a seven-judge panel that looked into whether King Henry V was liable for war crimes committed at the Battle of Agincourt (Shakespeare’s Henry V is currently playing at the theater).
Of the judges, it turned out that Judge David S. Tatel of the D.C. Court of Appeals was the closest thing to a Shakespeare scholar. He appeared to stump former Solicitor General Gregory Garre (representing the “French Civil Liberties Union”) when he pointed out that a scene of the play on which Garre relied was not included in the first printings of Shakespeare’s plays. It was therefore questionable whether Shakespeare even wrote that scene, Tatel noted.
Ginsburg – who clearly enjoyed playing the role of chief justice – and Alito were both game, with the latter getting a good laugh when he departed from the legal question before the panel and inquired about Henry’s relationship with Katharine, the French princess, who was said to be 14. “Your client is a pedophile,” he told one of Henry’s lawyers, Kannon Shanmugam.
Henry’s other lawyer, Miguel Estrada, probably got the biggest laughs when he took the fantasy scenario a step further by citing two imaginary legal authorities: “Cardinal Scalia”, who believed in the original intent of the founders of the Roman Empire and endorsed feeding prisoners to lions, and “Abbot Breyer,” who adopted a more pragmatic approach.
But the final word went to D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who cited the experiences of American King Richard XXXVII, “who said that if the King does it, it’s not illegal.”
For the record, the court found Henry liable for ordering the killing of French prisoners, an outcome that it not go down well with the virulently anti-French audience. King Henry could not be reached for comment.