May 22, 2006
A View from the Stacks: In Support of Anna Nicole
Two Law Librarians, both boasting an MLS degree, work at two different libraries. One works at a fully accredited law school. Another works at a busy law firm with bar card carrying lawyers. And both asked to get slip opinions of the Anna Nicole Smith case. Because the people asking just want “to read what the court has to say on this one.”
On May 1, 2006, Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. ___, 2006 WL 1131904, was handed down. Written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the case was surrounded in media fanfare from the minute that the Supreme Court granted certiorari. While the actual subject of the case was dry by most folk’s standards (or wildly complicated) the players were not. On the one hand, you had the son of an oil rich Texas tycoon named E. Pierce Marshall, who was feuding with his siblings and his father’s widow. On the other, you had Vickie Lynn Marshall, a/k/a Anna Nicole Smith, a character unto her own self. Among the questions: Does the “probate” exception fall under federal court’s jurisdiction?
I have been following this case rather obsessively. Not because I have any stake in the probate exception. Should I ever marry a man 85 years my senior who is worth a small country's gross domestic product, I will make sure I am mentioned somewhere in the will. What struck me was how obsessed the media was in covering this case. I became obsessed with how much time the news chose to devote to this seemingly boring topic. In a day and age when the nightly news covers the birth of TomKat and whether or not Brittney Spears is a fit parent, you are hard pressed to see any reports on the Supreme Court being in session, let alone handing down decisions.
But, with the advent of Marshall v. Marshall, gossip blogs were even publishing reports about the decision. Nestled in between the latest Angelina Jolie gossip and what Paris Hilton did last weekend, there were reports about Justice Scalia being charmed by Vickie Lynn and Justice Ginsburg asking the tough questions of Pierce’s attorneys. Some legal pundits have argued that the coverage was not because the issue was so earth-shattering that all eyes should be watching (in fact, Dahlia Lithwick sums up the rather silly coverage that the news was providing of the case in her May 1, 2006 column for Slate) but because for the first time in a long time, the Supreme Court and celebrity gossip collided.
And made for really good TV. So good, in fact, that most people thought the trial was a complete joke.
And maybe it was, but truth be told, my hat is off to Anna Nicole Smith. Her persistence in battling this case all the way up to the Supreme Court (well, both sides persistence actually) may have unknowingly educated a few people to the court process. At the very least, it meshed the names of some Supreme Court justices in with today’s celebrities. The people from eBay cannot say the same thing about their Supreme Court Decision. Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not think for one minute that we are now a nation of legal scholars because of Ms. Smith, but there now may be one more person who knows that the Supreme Court exists. This could be considered a victory in this day and age.
And, while the actual case is still being argued, remanded back to the lower courts for further discussion, other judges did in fact take note. In fact, on the same day that Marshall v. Marshall was handed down, a case from a District Court in Iowa cited to the decision. In the case In re H&W Motor Express Company, 2006 WL 1192370, the decision cites Justices Ginsburg’s writings concerning bankruptcy judges entering judgment in non-core matters, and not just making recommendations that will be reviewed by the district court de novo. (On a side note: I really, really, really wanted to do a timeline of this case on a bulletin board at my work. But somehow, and don’t ask me why, the topic of immigration won out over the probate exception.)
I suspect, in the end, that this case will make for a wonderful Trivial Pursuit/ Pub Quiz question. However, when attorneys and students are taking time out of their days just to “read what the courts have to say” it means that the media did a very good job in making us care about the outcome.
Hopefully they will do the same with the 2008 elections.
Maybe if Anna Nicole Smith runs.
Stina McClintock, Library Technician, King County Law Library (Seattle)
Editor's Note: Damn! Not 85 years older, not worth a small country's GDP...
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