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Ken Tableman Law Blog

What does the law mean, or one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.

Lawyers and judges have the recurring task of interpreting laws that Congress has enacted. You would think that after writing laws for more than 200 years that Congress would figure out how to write understandable laws, but not so. Much of the Supreme Court's docket this year consists of cases requiring it to construe the meaning of statutes.

The Court provided an example of how it goes about this task late last month when it decided that a fisherman who destroyed an undersized grouper had not violated a federal criminal law enacted after the Enron accounting scandal that prohibited the knowing destruction of or making of false entries in any "record, document or tangible object" with the intent to obstruct an investigation. In context a closely divided Court said the law did not reach fish. In disent, Justice Kagan referrred to, among other things, the book "One fish, Two fish, Red Fish, Blue" by Dr. Seuss. She thought the law was clear.

The opinion is worth reading and may give a preview of how the Court will approach the currently pending challenge to the subsidy provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Yates v. United States, No. 13-7451, decided February 25, 2015.

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