Supreme Courthouse in Washington D.C. America. Fisheye photo.
The Supreme Court, known for its serious interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and other significant legal issues, also has a little-known lighter side. Here are five cases that may not have received worldwide recognition, but certainly a number of giggles.
1. The Golf Case
The Supreme Court teed up the issue of what constitutes golf when Casey Martin, a professional golfer, sued the PGA to allow him to participate in tournaments using a golf cart. Martin, born with Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, which precluded him from the use of his right leg, was turned down by the PGA because they deemed it would be an unfair advantage against Martin's competition.
Martin won the case, but Judge Antonin Scalia's sarcasm made the opinion chuckle-worthy when he wrote:
"We Justices must confront what is indeed an awesome responsibility. It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States ... to decide What Is Golf. I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution ... fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? Either out of humility or out of self-respect (one or the other) the Court should decline to answer this incredibly difficult and incredibly silly question."
2. The Tomato Case
Ah, the age-old question: Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Well, according to the Supreme Court (drum-roll please), it's a vegetable! In the late 1800s, several vegetable importers who did not want their tomatoes taxed as a vegetable under the Tariff Act argued that the tomato is a fruit. The Court not only considered the dictionary definitions of "fruit" and "vegetable" but also heard testimony from botanists and customs agents, ultimately declaring that the tomato is legally a vegetable.
3. The Law & Order Case
If you've ever watched a TV crime show, you know that if you, unfortunately, happen to get arrested, and you don't have an attorney, you will be provided one, right? Awesome. Well, you can thank Clarence Earl Gideon for cementing that right for you.
In 1961, Gideon was arrested, tried, and convicted for breaking into a Florida pool hall and stealing a small sum of cash. While in jail, he thought about how unfair it was that he did not have enough money to hire a lawyer and no legal skills to defend himself, so he wrote a letter in pencil on prison stationery lamenting his misfortune to the Supreme Court and claiming that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel had been violated. And, yup, you guessed it, the Supreme Court agreed. Clarence got a new lawyer, new trial, an acquittal for his efforts, and the thanks of many indigent alleged law breakers.
4. The Fish Case
When a Supreme Court Justice cites Dr. Seuss in her opinion, you know it's worth the read! A Florida fisherman who threw away ill-gotten undersized groupers was cited for violations of the -- wait for it -- Sarbanes-Oxley Act, notably enacted after Enron officials tried to dump incriminating evidence. So the question presented to the Supreme Court was whether or not the fisherman destroyed “any record, document, or tangible object” with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation.
Believe it or not, the decision wasn't quite as simple as one would think, and in determining whether a fish was a "tangible object," Justice Kagan wittily stated:
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)."
But lucky for the fisherman, the law of the land now stands that a fish is just a fish.
5. The Coke Case
In 1909, the FDA, attempting to have caffeine designated a harmful and deleterious substance and eliminated from Coca-Cola drinks, seized a large amount of cola and literally filed suit against the actual cola in United States v. Forty Barrels and 20 Kegs of Coca-Cola. Coke won. And Triple Venti Lattes have been rejoicing ever since.