Category Archives: 6-1

Bankers Life & Casualty Co. v. Crenshaw

486 U. S. 71

May 16, 1988

After Lloyd Crenshaw lost a leg, his insurance company denied him a payout on some BS reasoning. Crenshaw prevailed in court, and was awarded punitive damages. The insurance company appealed and lost. Under Mississippi law, appellants who lost had to pay an additional 15% over the total value of money at issue. This law was made to discourage frivolous appeals. The insurance company appealed to the Supreme Court on two grounds: first, that Mississippi could not allow for unlimited punitive damages, and second, that the 15% law violated the Due Process clause.

Unanimously, the Court dismissed the punitive damages argument (Kennedy and Stevens did not participate). Marshall said that it really wasn’t properly raised below, and prudential concerns counseled against the Supreme Court dealing with the issue now. On the 15% law argument, the Court ruled 6-1 that the law comported with Due Process. Marshall said that the discouragement of frivolous appeals was a rational reason for the law. In a previous case, the Court had struck down a law requiring renters to post a bond of twice the rent before appealing, but that precedent was easily distinguished. It applied only to renters, instead of all appellants, and required that the extra money be paid before the appeal rather than after.

White concurred in judgment on the punitive damages portion. To him, it wasn’t just prudential to pass over that issue, but jurisdiction laws actively required the Court to pass over it since it hadn’t properly been raised below. O’Connor and Scalia also concurred in judgment on the punitive damages portion (they both also refused to assent to one trivial footnote). O’Connor largely agreed with Marshall’s reasoning, but noted that the punitive damages issue was certainly worth of decision in another case. Scalia both agreed with White that jurisdiction law barred consideration, and with O’Connor that the issue ought to be decided some time in the future.

Blackmun dissented from the holding about the 15% law. It violated Due Process because a great many appeals that it punished were not actually frivolous. Worse yet, the law had an exception for plaintiffs who lost in the first instance, and then appealed. Blackmun could not tolerate that kind of discrimination, since the law could only ever punish the original defendant.

These kinds of cases always leave me torn. On the one hand, the insurance company was being a jerk, and deserved some extra punitive damages. On the other hand, there very often are meritorious appeals where the appeals court simply gets it wrong, and I hate seeing a party being punished just because the court failed to rule correctly. So, it’s a dilemma.


Board of Directors of Rotary Int’l v. Rotary Club of Duarte

481 U. S. 537

May 4, 1987

The Rotary Club had a strict male only policy, but one chapter in California began admitting women, arguing that they were required to by a state anti-discrimination law. The Rotary Club attempted to revoke that chapter’s membership, leading to a lawsuit in which the California courts held that the Club had to allow chapters to admit women within the state. The Rotary Club argued that this burdened its freedom of association.

Unanimously, the Court ruled that California’s anti-discrimination law could be employed against the Rotary Club. Blackmun and O’Connor did not participate, and Scalia concurred in judgment without opinion. Powell wrote for the Court, and said that Rotary Clubs were especially public and especially diverse organizations. Furthermore, he argued that none of the Rotary Club’s principal stated goals would be compromised by the admission of women. This, coupled with a state’s compelling interest in ending sex discrimination meant that the Club’s freedom of association was not unreasonably burdened.

This decision was horrible on every level. The government has no business attempting to regulate the membership of private clubs. Even worse is the government deciding for itself whether a club’s purposes and goals really require excluding a certain group. But most troubling of all is the Court’s stark denial of what everyone really knows: a certain undefinable, but very real atmosphere is irrevocably lost whenever a single gender organization is forced to open up to the opposite gender. Sororities and fraternities, for example, wouldn’t be the same if they were gender integrated, and nearly the whole world can understand this instinctively. Whether the Court admitted it or not, this decision did forever destroy the Rotary zeitgeist.

This ruling is yet another example of the Supreme Court’s rebellion against God’s design of gender. God intended for men and women to be different; gender distinctions are a gift, not a curse. America will be much better off when it stops trying to use its laws to deny and suppress the blatantly obvious.