Today the Supreme Court decided two cases:
(1) First is the Florida grouper/Sarbanes Oxley case, Yates v. United States. Yates won a reversal of the conviction he had challenged, by a vote of 5-4, but without a majority opinion.
To prevent federal authorities from confirming that he had harvested undersized grouper, Yates ordered crew to toss the suspect catch back into the sea. He was charged and convicted under several provisions of federal law, including the Sarbanes Oxley prohibition on destruction of "tangible object[s]" with intent to impede a federal investigation (18 USC 1519). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed on the grounds that a fish was a "tangible object" within the meaning of the statute.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Eleventh Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings, but with no majority opinion. Justice Ginsburg announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion joined by the Chief Justice, Justice Breyer, and Justice Sotomayor. The plurality concluded that dictionary definitions were not dispositive here, that traditional tools of statutory interpretation counseled against an aggressive interpretation of "tangible object," and that if any doubt remained it would be appropriate to invoke the rule of lenity.
Justice Alito concurred in the judgment, providing the necessary fifth vote to reverse, but on narrower grounds: "[T]raditional tools of statutory construction confirm that John Yates has the better of the argument. Three features of 18 U. S. C. §1519 stand out to me: the statute’s list of nouns, its list of verbs, and its title. Although perhaps none of these features by itself would tip the case in favor of Yates, the three combined do so."
Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas. Citations include the work of Dr. Seuss: "While the plurality starts its analysis with §1519's heading...I would begin with §1519’s text. When Congress has not supplied a definition, we generally give a statutory term its ordinary meaning. See, e.g., Schindler Elevator Corp v. United States ex rel. Kirk, 563 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 5). As the plurality must acknowledge, the ordinary meaning of “tangible object” is “a discrete thing thatpossesses physical form.” Ante, at 7 (punctuation andcitation omitted). 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). So the ordinary meaning of the term “tangible object” in §1519, as noone here disputes, covers fish (including too-small red grouper)."
(2) Second was North Carolina Bd. of Dental Examiners v. FTC. By a vote of 6-3, the FTC prevailed.
Per Justice Kennedy's opinion for the Court, which was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan:
"This case arises from an antitrust challenge to the actions of a state regulatory board. A majority of the board’s members are engaged in the active practice of the profession it regulates. The question is whether the board’s actions are protected from Sherman Act regulation under the doctrine of state-action antitrust immunity....The Sherman Act protects competition while also respecting federalism. It does not authorize the States to abandon markets to the unsupervised control of active market participants, whether trade associations or hybrid agencies. If a State wants to rely on active market participants as regulators, it must provide active supervision if state-action immunity under Parker is to be invoked. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [(upholding the FTC judgment against the Board)] is affirmed."
Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas.