Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!
We have an explanation for all 1 xkcd comics,
and only 19
(1%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!
Go to this comic explanation
Title text: Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy called the man's arguments that he could be either Alito or Ginsburg "surprisingly compelling, but ultimately unconvincing."
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest judicial body in the United States. Its decisions, as expressed in the judicial opinions of its justices, are often in the news as in this comic. However, the Supreme Court has only nine members. Thus, a ruling that passed 9-1 (for a total of 10 votes) would indicate that a man claiming to be additional justice has somehow infiltrated the Court. The other nine justices are aware of the non-justice, and make it clear that this tenth justice does not belong. It is unclear if the justices released a formal decision on the subject or if the news is merely reporting the judges' statements as if they were decisions by citing a 9-1 decision (decisions of the SCOTUS are made on the basis of the opinion of the majority of the justices).
The identity of the "tenth justice" is not revealed in the comic or apparently to the actual justices, and neither is the reason that the interloper's "vote" was counted. Presumably, the nine actual justices voted that the tenth didn't belong while the interloper himself voted the other way.
This comic may be motivated by a 2012 survey, commonly cited since, that two thirds of Americans cannot name a Supreme Court Justice, and general ignorance of Americans overall of their own political landscape, by implying that even Justices are not confident in the identity of other members.
The title text refers to Justice Kennedy's reputation for being a moderate who is usually the swing vote in 5-4 decisions, which means that his vote can decide the outcome of the case which is otherwise split along the political leanings of the other justices. The joke in the title text is that he is weighing the arguments of both sides even though the non-justice is clearly not a justice and would not be allowed to make an argument if he were. The fictional Kennedy is committing the Golden Mean Fallacy, also seen in 690: Semicontrolled Demolition, and makes the same jab at that fallacy. Sometimes, the views of the two sides are mutually exclusive, or the other side is just wrong.
There is a second joke in the title text, that the man is claiming to be two of the current justices, who would actually have been in the room at the same time as the impostor was claiming to be them. To add further absurdity to this, one of those justices the man was claiming to be was Justice Ginsburg, who is female.
That said, it is possible that this could refer to a point in time in the past. Under the Tenth Circuit Act of 1863the U.S. Supreme Court was expanded to 10 justices; Stephen Johnson Field was named to the 10th seat. Congress abolished the seat via attrition through the Judicial Circuits Act of 1866. Field remained in office until 1897.
- [A female newscaster with long hair is sitting at her desk with a small image of scales shown to the left of her]
- Newscaster: Breaking news: The Supreme Court has ruled 9-1 that they don't know who this guy is or how he got in here, but he's definitely not a justice.
Is this out of date? .
Lots of people
contribute to make this wiki a success. Many of the recent contributors, listed above, have just joined. You can do it too! Create your account here
You can read a brief introduction about this wiki at explain xkcd. Feel free to sign up for an account and contribute to the wiki! We need explanations for comics, characters, themes, memes and everything in between. If it is referenced in an xkcd web comic, it should be here.
- List of all comics contains a table of most recent xkcd comics and links to the rest, and the corresponding explanations. There are incomplete explanations listed here. Feel free to help out by expanding them!
- We sell advertising space to pay for our server costs. To learn more, go here.
Don't be a jerk. There are a lot of comics that don't have set in stone explanations; feel free to put multiple interpretations in the wiki page for each comic.
If you want to talk about a specific comic, use its discussion page.
Please only submit material directly related to —and helping everyone better understand— xkcd... and of course only submit material that can legally be posted (and freely edited). Off-topic or other inappropriate content is subject to removal or modification at admin discretion, and users who repeatedly post such content will be blocked.
If you need assistance from an admin, post a message to the Admin requests board.