SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: Justice Jackson gets hometown honor
WASHINGTON (AP) — The naming of a Miami-area street for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson brings to four the number of sitting Supreme Court justices similarly honored and makes possible a high court-focused road trip between Florida and New York.
Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the court, was on hand for the naming ceremony Monday in the community where she was raised.
“To have my name so prominently displayed on a street in a community that has given me so much, that is a very special honor,” Jackson said.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Street in Miami-Dade County runs for about three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometers), just west of Biscayne Bay.
To start the trip, head north on Interstate 95. In Georgia, the highway crosses Interstate 16, not far from Savannah. That’s the Justice Clarence Thomas interchange. Drive into town to check out the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Clarence Thomas Center for Historic Preservation.
Continue all the way to New Jersey to drive along Justice Samuel Alito Way, in Hamilton Township, east of Trenton.
In New York City, roughly 1,300 miles (2,100 kilometers) from Jackson Street sits the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Houses and Community Center, the Bronx housing development where the justice grew up.
Sotomayor, the senior justice on the liberal side of the court since Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement last year, also is the court’s leader as measured by places named in her honor. Public schools in California, New Jersey, South Dakota and Texas also bear her name.
No one has as many public honors as Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black person on the Supreme Court. Among the places named for Marshall are the international airport between Baltimore and Washington and 35 public schools in 18 states and the nation’s capital.
One of those schools, in a Maryland suburb of Washington, previously had been named for Chief Justice Roger Taney, who wrote the pre-Civil War Dred Scott decision, which held that Black people could not be American citizens.
Last week, Jackson had two firsts in her eight months as a justice. She wrote her first majority opinion for the court and likely cast her first deciding vote breaking a 4-4 deadlock.
She was in the majority of a 5-4 decision, authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, in favor of people who were fined for violating a federal law regulating foreign bank accounts.
Because seniority means so much on the Supreme Court, Jackson, as the junior justice, is the last to speak in the private conferences at which the justices tentatively vote on the outcome of cases they have just heard.
So in the normal course of the court’s business, Jackson’s eight colleagues would have been split when it was her turn to speak and decide how the case would come out.
Gorsuch may not leave a big tip if a restaurant charges him for frozen salmon when the menu promises fresh. But he’s not going to make a federal case out of it.
That was the thrust of his comments last week in arguments over the reach of a federal law that adds a minimum of two years in prison to fraud crimes that also involve identity theft.
Justices were trying out an array of made-up situations involving the use of a credit card to assess when dishonesty could become something more serious, in a case in which the Justice Department was defending an expansive reading of the law.
“Wouldn’t it be enough for the day to say that this reading of the statute was overbroad and that it cannot possibly mean that every time I order fresh salmon at a restaurant and get billed for — given frozen salmon and billed for fresh — that cannot be federal identity theft?” Gorsuch asked.
It’s clear that the Colorado-born justice is no vegetarian. In 2017, Gorsuch invoked his method of steak preparation in seeking to poke holes in the case advanced by opponents of the overly partisan drawing of electoral districts.
“It reminds me a little bit of my steak rub. I like some turmeric, I like a few other little ingredients, but I’m not going to tell you how much of each,” Gorsuch said. He wound up being in the majority of a 5-4 decision that closed federal courts to complaints about partisan gerrymandering.
It turns out that Sotomayor, who sits next to Gorsuch on the bench, also has an appetite for the food hypothetical. “It’s like, if I ordered a tomahawk steak and they gave me a big sirloin steak, that would be a fraud, but my name isn’t used in that way, correct?” Sotomayor asked in the identity theft case.
The two justices also engaged in a, wait for it, rhetorical food fight in a most unlikely setting, a case over coronavirus relief funds for Alaska Natives that the court decided in 2021.
The case turned on whether a federal law should be read so as to count Alaska Native corporations as Indian tribes.
Writing for a six-justice majority, Sotomayor said yes, it should. And she likened the language in federal law to a restaurant ad offering half off “any meat, vegetable, or seafood dish, including ceviche, which is cooked.”
Ceviche is a popular Latin American dish often made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices and served cold.
Conjuring a customer who ordered ceviche, Sotomayor wrote: “Would she expect it to be cooked? No. Would she expect to pay full price for it? Again, no.”
But the outcome would be different under Gorsuch’s test, resulting in no discount for ceviche because it is not cooked, she wrote.
“That conclusion would make no sense to a reasonable customer,” Sotomayor wrote, labelling the ceviche a “red herring.”
In his dissenting opinion, Gorsuch rejected Sotomayor’s criticism that his reading of the law was implausible. In a footnote, he called Sotomayor’s example both colorful and “a bit underdone.”
There are other plausible ways to understand the ad, he wrote, including that the restaurant might “lightly poach” the seafood before using it in ceviche. Or, citing cookbook author Mark Bittman, Gorsuch wrote, “Maybe the restaurant meant to speak of ceviche as ‘cooked’ in the sense of ‘fish … cooked by marinating it in an acidic dressing’ like lime juice.'”
When arguments at the court ended March 1 in a legal tussle between New York and New Jersey, Marshal Gail Curely announced an unusual time for the court’s next meeting: Friday March 17 at 3 p.m.
The justices and the lawyers who make up the Supreme Court bar will be holding a memorial service, delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in 2020.
The gathering is being held two days after what would have been Ginsburg’s 90th birthday.
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