–The Wireless Association

In the recent contretemps at the Volokh Conspiracy about a footnote mocking “CTIA–The Wireless Agency,” Justice Scalia has my sympathy. That’s partly because I, too, dislike legal documents that are filled with acronyms, especially ones that are likely to be unfamiliar to most readers. My brain does not stutter over FBI or NASA; I can get used to DOJ; but even now I am not positive what CTIA stands for. I think the best evidence from this blog post is that it no longer stands for anything. Maybe that’s what really bugged Justice Scalia, who remembers the days when IBM was still “International Business Machines,” and KFC was still “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

But the discussion so far seems to have missed half of what makes “CTIA–The Wireless Association” such a weird name– that m-dash and subsequent clause. It’s weird because it is cumbersome, but also because the stuff that comes after the dash might reasonably be expected to clarify what comes before it. Is CTIA a wireless association? Is that what A stands for? Or is it wrong to use CTIA as a standalone phrase?

And then there’s the dash. As the sentence is written in Justice Scalia’s opinion for the Court (we’re it not for the footnote) one would think the dash opens up a clause–presumably explaining what CTIA is–that the rest of the sentence will close. But it doesn’t, and the resulting mix of dash and comma really does look like a typo:

In July 2008, CTIA—The Wireless Association, which represents wireless service providers, petitioned the FCC to clarify the meaning of§332(c)(7)(B)(ii)’s requirement that zoning authorities act on siting requests “within a reasonable period of time.”

Indeed, I half suspect that the footnote was included because somebody– a clerk, another Justice, or Scalia himself– looked at the sentence without a footnote and really did think it looked like a misprint. Yes, the clarifying footnote could have been subtler or gentler, but if we’re taking a vote, count me as basically a defender of this footnote.