Doug Emhoff Jokes About How His Life Has Changed During Shakespearean Mock Trial

With wife Kamala Harris in the audience, the second gentleman argued a case based on characters from Much Ado About Nothing, with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer presiding

doug emhoff
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff. Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff argued a case this week before retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer — defending a client accused of defamation in a wild scheme to sabotage a wedding.

The scandalous matter was not before the U.S. Supreme Court, however, but rather Italy's Corte Suprema di Cassazione.

Emhoff, a former entertainment lawyer, and Breyer took the stage on Monday at Sidney Harman Hall for a mock trial based on William Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing.

"A Hero Defamed? Much Ado About Margaret" was the latest edition of Shakespeare Theatre Company's series that "explores the connection of classical theatre and modern-day law" and enlists the talents of prominent Washington, D.C., players for a night of courtroom comedy.

"My parents tonight are watching the livestream," Emhoff, 57 said as his wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, watched in the audience. "I might have told them that I was arguing in front of the United States Supreme Court so, cameraperson, can you just keep a very tight shot?"

Kamala Harris and Douglas Emhoff
From left: Kamala Harris, husband Doug Emhoff and Joe Biden. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Originally planned in March, the trial was postponed because of Emhoff coming down with COVID-19.

"I thank your honors for granting my motion for a continuance due to plague," Emhoff said from a lectern on the stage, according to The Guardian's coverage of the event. "The White House apothecary told me my symptoms would be wild but — whew!"

As the trial began, Emhoff joked about how his world has changed in the past few years. "I haven't been in court for a few years, so excuse me if I'm a bit rusty," he said. "You know, not too much has changed in my life — except for the Secret Service, Air Force Two, the selfies, the cameras following me everywhere, and oh: My wife is the vice president of the United States."

The case, presided over by Breyer and four other federal judges, was spun from Shakespeare's tale and described in court documents provided for the mock trial.

"Hero, the daughter of Messina's governor, after discovering the plot to stain her reputation and subvert her marriage to Claudio, the count from Florence, sues Don John, his follower Borachio, and Hero's former attendant Margaret," reads the case scenario.

Justice Stephen Breyer
Justice Stephen Breyer. ERIN SCHAFF/POOL/AFP via Getty

Emhoff represented Margaret pro bono after she'd been found liable by a lower court. "I stand behind women — and Margaret, I have her back, too!" he said, according to SCOTUS Blog.

In defending his client, Emhoff argued Margaret was merely "an unwitting pawn of the real villain, Don Jr. — I mean, Don John," inserting a joke about former President Donald Trump's eldest son.

He also referenced the recent confirmation of Justice Breyer's replacement on the high court. "We know clear error when we see it," he said. "Like a decision by a senator not to vote for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. We know clear error!"

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who sat on the panel alongside Breyer, referring to characters in Much Ado About Nothing, raised a point to Emhoff about a man who worries about marrying "somebody who's really pretty and is really smart and witty" because "she could turn out to be the one who is better known and more prominent than he is."

In his response, Emhoff quipped, "As I say, your honor, I used to be somebody," which prompted laughs from the audience.

Though the trial ended with a unanimous decision against Emhoff's client — "Not completely!" Breyer joked, "but pretty much" — Harris appeared proud of her husband when she joined him on stage after the show for a hug.

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