March 20, 2012
Astrue v. Capato (11-159): meaning of "child" in trusts/wills law
Shocking as it may sound, the seemingly endless federal bureaucracy can get confusing, especially when interpreting statutory procedure. When that happens, federal courts -- including the Supreme Court -- by precedent normally give the government the benefit of the doubt, what is called "administrative deference."
That ambiguity was on display Monday in an unusual legal dilemma: Can a child conceived after the death of the biological father be eligible for survivor benefits under Social Security?
The Obama administration thinks not, and a majority of justices -- almost by default -- appeared to agree during a spirited morning of oral arguments.
"You lose if the statute is ambiguous," said Chief Justice John Roberts to the lawyer for the surviving parent. "Is there any reason we shouldn't conclude based on the last hour that it's at least ambiguous?"
Added Justice Elena Kagan: "It's a mess."
At issue is how the court should interpret the word "child" and whether state laws over wills and trusts are adequate to deal with evolving technology for in vitro fertilization.
Read more here.
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