Today, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on Yates v. United States, a closely watched and often joked about case. As the saying goes, truth is often stranger than fiction: Yates is a Florida fisherman who was caught catching undersized grouper, which is a violation of federal law. Officials ordered Yates to preserve the evidence of his crime (the undersized grouper). Yates, channeling his inner Ron Swanson, threw the grouper overboard, presumably in an attempt to do away with evidence of his crime. The feds, channeling their inner Leslie Knope, scoured the Federal Code to come up with something (anything) to charge Yates with, landing on the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which forbids the destruction of “any record, document, or tangible object” with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation. For those who don’t know, Sarbanes-Oxley was passed following the Enron scandal to prevent financial firms from shredding incriminating documents related to federal investigations of their wrongdoing. Yates fought back, arguing that the undersized grouper didn’t qualify as a “tangible object” under Sarbanes-Oxley.
In a closely split ruling, the Supreme Court sided with Yates. A plurality of justices interpreted the statute to cover “only objects one can use to record or preserve information, not all objects in the physical world.” But the Court’s opinion is not important here. If you want legal analysis, find someone else, because I have to do enough of it during the week. What is important is that apparently Justice Elena Kagan disagreed with the Court, and for the first time in history, cited a book written by the esteemed Dr. Seuss. Appropriately, she cited the good doctor’s illustrious work “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” as evidence that fish are “tangible objects” within the meaning of Sarbanes-Oxley.
As the plurality must acknowledge, the ordinary meaning of “tangible object” is “a discrete thing that possesses physical form.” A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form. See generally Dr. Seuss, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960).
I, for one, really like the idea of Supreme Court justices citing renowned children’s authors in their opinions. I hope Justice Kagan has begun a new era in Supreme Court jurisprudence, one where each opinion has at least one or two references to popular literature. Who knows? Maybe Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will cite “Harry Potter” in her next opinion. It would be a great opportunity for Vegas to set odds on whether a particular justice will include a literary reference and to what type of book — I know I would appreciate having something to bet on during the week besides Fan Duel..
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