Friday, February 3, 2012

Justice Thomas stands up for the little guy

Recently, the Supreme Court decided the case of Pacific v. Valladolid.  It is a decidedly unsexy case, and its ruling did not provoke any headlines in the New York Times. The unsexy issue: whether the Longshore and Harbor Worker's Compensation Act extends to an employee who died on land rather than at sea, if the death had a "substantial nexus" to his work at sea. According to the Supreme Court, it does.

Why is this bloggable?

First, the opinion was unanimous.  There was no ideological split, though Alito and Scalia did file a separate opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Second, the case came up from the Ninth Circuit, which the Supreme Court famously likes to smack down.  And the Ninth Circuit's opinion was in conflict with two other circuits which had decided the issue, so it may have seemed ripe for a smackin'.

Third, the losing party in this case was Big Oil, which (along with all other big businesses) the Supreme Court supposedly kowtows to.

Fourth, the majority opinion, written by Justice Thomas, uses textual analysis to reach a result that favors the little guy—in this case a manual laborer whose job was known in the trade as a "roustabout."  This would seem to refute the argument that textualism is just a smokescreen that judges use to get the results that they subjectively prefer.  (For another example, see this prior post.)

In other words, this case should make you question your cynicism.

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