Wednesday Writs for 10/17

Wednesday Writs for 10/17

Feature image by A Learned Hand, but not The Learned Hand.

[L1]:  If you’re not familiar, read up on the federal judge who was so influential that he was known as “the Tenth Justice”, and who has arguably the best name in the history of jurisprudence: Judge Learned Hand.

Wednesday Writs for 10/17

His first name was actually Billings, but he wisely chose to go by his middle name, Learned. Among other anecdotes, one of the best is his commentary on losing a bid for chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals. He had refused to actively campaign, stating “the thought of harassing the electorate was more than I could bear.” From his lips to the modern candidate’s ears… Anyway, here to the left is Judge Hand in 1893, the year he graduated from Harvard Law.

[L2]: Speaking of 1893: The next time some know-it-all tries to tell you that, ackshually, a tomato is a fruit, tell them the Supreme Court says it is vegetable. If you really want to impress, go the extra step and cite the 1893 case of Nix v. Hedden, our case of the week.

It seems  at that time, vegetables were subject to a tax from which fruits were exempt, but tomatoes were among the taxed produce. The John Nix & Co. Fruit Commission filed suit, claiming tomatoes were a fruit by definition and therefore exempt from the tax. The Supreme Court ruled that it was “the spirit of the law” that savory produce, such as tomatoes, were commonly considered vegetables by the public, and thus subject to the tax.

[L3]: Speaking of judges: One year ago, Allen Loughry was chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals; today, he’s a federally convicted felon, eleven times over.

[L4]: West Virginia’s high court is not the only one in turmoil; 6 of 7 justices on the Arkansas Supreme Court face ethics charges for stripping a circuit judge of his power to hear death penalty cases. The justices allegedly emailed the judge over a weekend to let him know he had to file an answer to the motion for his removal- by 9am that Monday.

[L5]:Speaking of the death penalty, it was struck down in Washington State last week. Not because it is, by itself, cruel and unusual, but because a study showed that blacks are 3.5 to 4.6 times more likely to be condemned.

[L6]: If you missed it last week in OT’s comments section, there’s a video game in existence about dating the US Supreme Court Justices.

[L7]: Speaking of the Supreme Court, how do you pronounce certiorari? Here’s a fun quiz on commonly mispronounced words from the legal world and elsewhere. Some of the correct answers may surprise you.

[L8]: Speaking of surprises: In 1999, cops in Kennett, Missouri went to talk to a man about a stolen license plate. The man ended up killing himself in a standoff with police, for reasons unknown to them at the time. Nearly 20 years later, DNA reveals he was the perpetrator of a brutal double murder, just months before his death.

[L9]: Think twice before you post that dank meme; you could be breaking the law – in Mexico, anyway.

[L10]: Speaking of breaking the law, if you’re going to steal a boat, be sure you know how to drive a boat, unlike our dumb criminal of the week.

[L11]: I’ll leave you with some more of Judge Learned Hand, the folk singer. Yes, folk singer. We legal types are an eclectic bunch. Until next week!

Judge Billings Learned Hand Singing Old English Song


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Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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17 thoughts on “Wednesday Writs for 10/17

  1. L2: The law is an ass. Tomatoes form from flowers and contain seeds, therefore they cannot (botanically) be a vegetable, no matter how you wish to tax them or how you cook them.

    I am a botanist and I sometimes talk about this thing in my classes. But it still annoys me.

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    • Tomatoes definitely are fruits, but I don’t know that that makes them not vegetables. If we exclude all fruits from being vegetables, then a Greek salad is a fruit salad with onions and cheese.

      If asked to define “vegetable” I’d probably come up with something like “part of a plant that humans commonly eat” or maybe “part of a plant that humans eat primarily in savory dishes”. That could include leaves, roots, stems, flowers, fruit, seeds – whatever part of the plant we eat.

      Even the latter definition is fuzzy because including seeds would make both green corn on the cob, and cornmeal into “vegetables” but we tend to think of corn as a vegetable or a grain depending how ripe it is.

      Anyway, a definition of “vegetable” that excludes zucchini, peppers, eggplant, okra, edible pod peas and beans, cucumber, pumpkin flesh – well, let’s just say that if I used that one, I would have to say I don’t eat a lot of vegetables.

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      • Fillyjonk knows the details in but the scientific definition of fruit means that if it has seeds, its fruit. That DOES include peppers and pumpkins and cucumbers and all that. There are a lot more fruits than veggies. But veggies includes spinach, broccoli, greens, cauliflour, asparagus, carrots and other root vegetables… those are vegetables, right Fillyjonk?

        Anyway, I know tomatoes are a fruit. I just thought the case was interesting. It reminded me of when the USDA said ketchup was a vegetable.

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        • I know all those things are fruit.

          I just don’t know that being a fruit excludes a thing from also being a vegetable – any more than being a leaf, flower, tuber, or seed excludes the thing from being a vegetable.

          As I understand it, “vegetable” is basically a culinary definition, not a botanical one. And it’s kind of a tautological culinary definition at that – if we eat it as a vegetable, it’s a vegetable.

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      • Botanical and culinary definitions of “what is a fruit” differ.

        Botanical: forms from a flower, contains (or SHOULD contain – bananas and navel oranges are freaks) seeds. Vegetables come from some non-flower plant part: leaf (lettuce, spinach, cabbage – even onions; the layers are highly modified leaves), stem (potatoes are highly modified stem tissue), roots (beets and carrots), petioles (rhubarb which yes it is not a fruit, and celery).

        Nuts and beans are botanically fruits.

        Culinary: fruit is usually sweet, vegetables are usually savory (or inedibly bitter in the case of eggplant)

        This is also why I raise an eyebrow at nutritionists who declare that “fruit has sugar and so it’s bad for you.” Tomatoes have sugar. Hell, fricking carrots have sugar.

        I once had students nearly come to blows in a class over whether peanuts were a fruit or not (They are, and what’s weirder, they form UNDERGROUND – the fruit pushes under the ground as it develops, it is called geocarpy). The area where I now live is a peanut growing region and people do not know this. (When I was a kid, my mom – herself a botanist – grew peanuts for us one summer so my brother and I could see how they formed. We didn’t get many; Ohio was really too cold for them)

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  2. It’s legal weed day in Canada. A whole host of new federal, provincial, and municipal laws are coming into effect.

    There are already people gathering funds to challenge some of them as soon as a “poster” defendant comes up. In particular, the 2 ng/mL blood serum THC limit for driving impairment is likely to see a challenge pretty soon (and, if I understand right, it very much should, as that threshold maps very poorly to our current thresholds for alcohol impairment).

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  3. L2 is pretty good, but its not as good as the time a US court had to decide whether the X-Men are human.

    Incidentally, cases like this are one of the reasons economists favour having sales taxes that are the same for all goods and services – it prevents things like this from happening.

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