One For The Law Wonks
[I have been waiting and waiting for an excuse to use a Sesame Street Law and Order: Special Letters Unit YouTube. The best part of having a child is enjoying Sesame Street all over again through their eyes. Love it. Enjoy.]
The NYTimes has a fascinating peek behind the US Supreme Court robes this morning, and I thought the law wonks in the audience would get a kick out of this one:
When people think, if they ever do, about a Supreme Court justice’s daily routine, many undoubtedly envision a life spent contemplating the great issues: due process, equal protection and other resonant constitutional concepts.
What they probably do not imagine is time spent puzzling over whether the phrase “within 75 miles” in a 1993 federal statute means miles as the crow flies — in a straight line that disregards hill and dale — or miles as a car must actually navigate on the ground: around curves, doubling back to avoid geographic barriers, traveling real roads that rarely mark the shortest distance between two points.
The difference between the two possible definitions of “within 75 miles” usually does not matter much. But when it matters, it matters a lot, as it does to a former insurance executive from Oklahoma, Kelly Hackworth.
If the distance between two of her former employer’s offices is measured by “radius miles,” a straight line on the map, Ms. Hackworth was entitled to the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act when she lost her job after taking time off to take care of her hospitalized mother. The law applies to companies that employ at least 50 people within 75 miles of the complaining employee’s workplace. If the distance between Ms. Hackworth’s office in Norman, Okla., and a satellite office in Lawton is measured by driving the route along existing roads, she is out of luck by six-tenths of a mile, which is what the federal appeals court in Denver ruled a few months ago.
Her appeal, now awaiting word on whether the justices will accept it for decision, would not appear to be the stuff of a Supreme Court case. But in fact, it is quite typical, more so than people realize. It therefore offers a window on the court’s ordinary life as the 2006-2007 term enters its final, and atypically frantic, month.
People often think that lawyers, and especially judges, deal only in lofty Constitutional contemplation when, in reality, the job is most often about the nitpicky "devil is in the details" sorts of issues that we all face from time to time.
Scotusblog, which does an enormous service for all of us by following the US Supreme Court minutae, has a wonderful piece from earlier in the week on the government's brief on "original writs" for detainees in a pending case argument that needs some reading. In the context of yesterday's fantastic book salon on "In Defense Of Our America," it should be abundantly clear to all of us that active citizenship requires that we stay abreast not just of the legislative and Presidential processes, along with the Administration rules and regs changes, but also pay attention to trends in the courts as well. This gives a complete picture of where we are as a nation — and where we ought to be going as well.
We have a lot of work to do. But knowing what we face is the first step toward effective action for change. And if you think that none of the lofty fights in the court could possibly apply to you, remember a woman from Oklahoma who may have lost her job because the distance measured from her house to her job wasn't determined as the crow flies.