(p. A16) In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the real issue in the case, Yates v. United States, No. 13-7451, was that the law is too harsh. It is, she wrote, “too broad and undifferentiated, with too-high maximum penalties, which give prosecutors too much leverage and sentencers too much discretion.”
She added, “And I’d go further: In those ways,” the law “is unfortunately not an outlier, but an emblem of a deeper pathology in the federal criminal code.”
Still, she said, “this court does not get to rewrite the law.” She said it was “broad but clear.”
“A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form,” Justice Kagan wrote, citing as authority the Dr. Seuss classic “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.”
It does not matter, she said, that what Mr. Yates destroyed was not a document.
“A person who hides a murder victim’s body is no less culpable than one who burns the victim’s diary,” she wrote. “A fisherman, like John Yates, who dumps undersized fish to avoid a fine is no less blameworthy than one who shreds his vessel’s catch log for the same reason.”
Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined Justice Kagan’s dissenting opinion.
For the full story, see:
ADAM LIPTAK. “In Overturning Conviction, Supreme Court Says Fish Are Not Always Tangible.” The New York Times (Thurs., FEB. 26, 2015): A16.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 25, 2015.)
The book discussed above is:
Seuss, Dr. One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. New York: Random House, 1960.