Category Archives: 7-0

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.


Traynor v. Turnage

485 U. S. 535

April 20, 1988

The GI bill helped veterans go to school for 10 years after honorable discharge. This 10 year period could be extended if they missed school due to disabilities not caused by “willful misconduct.” Two veterans were denied this extension when their alcoholism was ruled “willful misconduct.” They sued under the Rehabilitation Act, which denied any discrimination against the handicapped. There was a standing challenge because normally determination about veterans benefits did not get judicial review.

The Court unanimously found standing, since the dispute was over the Rehabilitation Act, and not veterans administration itself. Then the Court held 4-3 that the extension could be denied for alcoholism (Scalia and Kennedy did not participate). White said the same Congress that passed the Rehabilitation Act also intimated that it was fine with alcoholism being deemed “willful misconduct.” White concluded that there was no discrimination against the handicapped – just those who had committed misconduct. In light of the ambiguity about the Rehabilitation Act’s reach, and alcoholism’s status as a ‘disease,’ the Court had no trouble deferring to the veteran’s administration.

Blackmun, joined by Brennan and Marshall, dissented. He told sob stories about the veterans getting into drinking as little children, and how they had no choice in the development of their addiction. Blackmun also cited literature showing how hard it is to beat alcoholism. He thought they deserved to at least argue that they had committed no “willful misconduct,” and that the Rehabilitation Act gave them that right. Legislative history showed that the Rehabilitation Act was intended to cover alcoholism, and the Congressional acquiescence to the “willful misconduct” standard wasn’t entirely explicit.

This is a very interesting case about accountability. Is it fair to hold a full grown man accountable for a habit he developed at age 8? Maybe no, but this is also a case about entitlements. These men were given 10 whole years of free government assistance, and they still demanded more! Government aid is a generous privilege, not some natural right, and I do get tired of Brennan and friends pretending otherwise so often.

United States v. Louisiana

485 U. S. 88

March 1, 1988

First, a word about the case name. The official citation is “United States v. Louisiana,” but the case does not involve Louisiana at all. United States Reports uses the more colloquial “Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case,” but Alabama is likewise not involved at all. Well over a decade before, the federal government had began fighting with all three states about their territorial reach into the Gulf of Mexico, but by 1988 only Mississippi was still fighting. At issue was an area of water known as the Chandeleur Sound. The Special Master in charge of arbitrating the territorial disputes claimed that dealing with the Chandeleur area was beyond the scope of his charge.

Justice Blackmun wrote for a unanimous Court, and agreed with the Special Master (Marshall and Kennedy did not participate). Blackmun observed that Mississippi and the United States were substantially in accord about the area which was within the Special Master’s purview. He thus directed that an ultimate settlement be finally made for the areas within that purview, and allowed that the parties could come back later and institute new action to deal with the Chandeleur Sound dispute.

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.