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When I was young, my two old-maid aunts who resided with us nicknamed me the “Yeah, but,” Kid. Whenever my Irish mother would scold me for some peccadillo, I always had an excuse, and yet I never got a chance to tell it. My mother never gave me the opportunity to explain my transgression (or at least what she deemed a “transgression” at the time). I suppose it was good training for adulthood, as we all live in a bit of a “yeah, but” world. Let’s consider, for example, your next airline flight: “Why did you pack that in your carry-on? Don’t you know that it is forbidden to…?” Yeah, but…!”

Anyone who watched the State of the Union Address by President Obama on January 27th witnessed a bit of “yeah, but-ting” by at least a majority of the Supreme Court justices present. Obama called them to task for their pro-special interests decision in the recent case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which had barred use by some conservatives of Hillary: The Movie, which was intended to have Hillary Clinton’s campaign supporters yeahbutting. There sat Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito shaking his head and presumably mouthing some version of “yeah, but….” Those who appear before the U.S. Supreme Court—or any court for that matter—often find themselves trying to explain the “yeah, but” when pinned down by a tough inquisitor on the bench or by a prosecutor. The theory may be that we are “innocent until proven guilty,” but reality is that everybody is vulnerable.

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