Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Justice Kagan on the Mets

Today, the Supreme Court decided Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories, Ltd. v. Novo Nordisk A/S. Justice Kagan authored the opinion for a unanimous Court. The case is Supreme Court red meat—although in the abstract it deals with a complicated statutory regime governing the approval of generic drugs for non-patented uses, the case ultimately boils down to statutory interpretation, specifically of the word "an." Seriously:
Truth be told, the answer to the general question “What does ‘not an’ mean?” is “It depends”: The meaning of the phrase turns on its context.  “Not an” sometimes means “not any,” in the way Novo claims.  If your spouse tells you he is late because he “did not take a cab,” you will infer that he took no cab at all (but took the bus instead).  If your child admits that she “did not read a book all summer,” you will surmise that she did not read any book (but went to the movies a lot).  And if a sports-fan friend bemoans that “the New York Mets do not have a chance of winning the World Series,” you will gather that the team has no chance whatsoever (because they have no hitting). But now stop a moment.  Suppose your spouse tells you that he got lost because he “did not make a turn.”  You would understand that he failed to make a particular turn, not that he drove from the outset in a straight line.  Suppose your child explains her mediocre grade on a college exam by saying that she “did not read an assigned text.” You would infer that she failed to read a specific book, not that she read nothing at all on the syllabus. And suppose a lawyer friend laments that in her last trial, she “did not prove an element of the offense.”  You would grasp that she is speaking not of all the elements, but of a particular one. The examples could go on and on, but the point is simple enough: When it comes to the meaning of “not an,” context matters.
As interesting as this general discussion of "not an" is, what caught my eye was the sports talk. Justice Kagan is, famously, a Mets fan. I do not take her use of the Mets example—"the New York Mets do not have a chance a winning the World Series"—to be an empty hypothetical example. I take her to be opining that, in fact, the Mets do not have a chance of winning the World Series. She even slips in the reason—"because they have no hitting."

This is a unanimous opinion remember, so I take it the entire Court is on board with this prognostication. Come October, we'll find out if the Court can maintain its famed legitimacy in matters related to baseball.

1 comment:

  1. My prediction is that this "prognostication" will be correct. Accordingly, Justice Kagan will go down in history as knowing more about baseball than either Justice Blackmun or Justice Holmes.


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