485 U. S. 395
March 29, 1988
In Arkansas, the Social Security and veteran’s benefits of a prisoner could be seized by the state to pay for the costs of that prisoner’s incarceration. Clever, huh? Unfortunately for Arkansas, federal law flatly prohibited any seizing of Social Security or veteran’s benefits. Arkansas claimed that there was an “implied exception” to this prohibition when the state paid for all of a person’s financial costs.
In a unanimous per curiam ruling, the Supreme Court curtly disagreed. When the federal law said that benefits were not to be touched, they were not to be touched! It was an open and shut case, and the “implied exception” business was just nonsense. Initially, I was inclined to think of the Arkansas legal community as complete idiots. But then I remembered Wells Fargo, where “all taxation” didn’t actually mean all taxation – and I had just a tiny bit of sympathy for Arkansas.