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Musician's Lyrics Most Cited by Judges? Bob Dylan

By Robin Enos on May 24, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Bob Dylan's lyrics get cited more frequently in judicial opinions than those of any other songwriter.

Reports of this surprising fact tally judicial citations to Bob Dylan's reflective, narrative songs against citations to the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Woody Guthrie or the Rolling Stones. Dylan is cited more than twice as often as the nearest "competitor," the Beatles, reports the Los Angeles Times.

What's going on here?

Common sense and the calendar indicate most judges now sitting attended college and law school in the 1960s and 1970s. So Dylan's lyrics provide a cultural database from which judges coming of age during the Civil Rights era can draw literary comparisons.

Dylan's "Hurricane" provides the story of a Fourth Amendment search and seizure issue right out of a law school casebook. The lyrics narrate a traffic stop, a warrantless search, a racist cop, damaging evidence and a frame-up scenario. The story could have been lifted straight from a law school exam.

But is something deeper going on?

Every lawyer who ever argued to a jury knows the value of telling a story. And, as the Times story observes, Bob Dylan's story/songs sounded "the moral siren songs of the 1960s." Perhaps we should not be surprised when Boomer judges rely on the hippy bard from Minneapolis to express moral principles.

Meanwhile, think about some other Dylan lyrics:

"And the first one now / Will later be last / For the times they are a-changin'."

The reference to "the last shall be first, and the first will be last" from the New Testament could scarcely be clearer.

So do these citations to Bob Dylan show us something new? Or are judges simply using a new mirror on old ideas, expressed by another hippy Jewish kid a long time ago?

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