Astoundingly, between encouraging municipalities to steal our homes and enabling doctors to kill unborn children, the Supreme Court found time to hear a routine but raunchy inheritance case earlier this week. Skeptics assume that the plaintiff’s celebrity as a “self-described ‘blonde bombshell‘” helped elbow this lawsuit onto the Court’s crowded calendar.
You might think, as a taxpayer in these United States, that you have the right to avail yourself of its courts, even the Supreme one. You would be wrong. As the Court’s website whines, “caseload has increased steadily to a current total of more than 7,000 cases on the docket per Term.” Those nine folks in goofy gowns can’t be expected to sit through 7,000 soporific arguments, nor read 7,000 non-brief briefs. The State monopolizes “justice,” and it cares nothing for supply and demand. Rather, it decrees that there will be one Supreme Court, that it will consist of nine mollycoddled members who must be protected from overwork, and that we serfs will make do. Accordingly, the Court warns us that “plenary review, with oral arguments by attorneys, is granted” — oh, how magnanimous! — “in about 100 cases per Term. Formal written opinions are delivered in 80—90 cases. Approximately 50—60 additional cases are disposed of without granting plenary review.” So about 250 cases out of perhaps 7,000 will come under the consideration, whether full or cursory, of these political appointees. That’s a production rate of about 3.5%.
How do the Supremes decide which of those 7,000 cases will benefit from their august opinion? At least four of the justices must signal their interest. The winning suits also have either a Constitutional issue — or enough fodder that the justices can invent one, la the right to abortion — or conflicting opinions from lower courts in parallel cases. The Institute for Justice mentions an example of the latter on its website: “Plaintiffs in two lawsuits challenging similar laws [regarding direct shipments of wine] in Michigan and New York have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their cases. Because the courts in those cases reached opposite results, the odds for Supreme Court review are much higher than normal.”
That brings us to Marshall v. Marshall, No. 04-1544. On the one hand, this inheritance case is totally typical and boasts nothing to entice the too-busy Supremes: heirs are fighting over an estate. On the other, it is entirely atypical. The estate in question, that of J. Howard Marshall II, is worth about $1.6 billion. One of the battling heirs is his son, 67-year-old E. Pierce Marshall. The other is Pierce’s 38-year-old stepmother, Vickie Lynn Marshall. It is Vicki, rather than Constitutional issues or warring court decisions, who attracts the Supremes’ interest: she is better known as Anna Nicole Smith, former stripper and tawdry entertainer.
The details of the case are as tiresome as Annie’s alias, and they don’t cast her in a flattering light, either. She married Mr. Marshall in 1994, when she was a 26-year-old divorced mother of one and he was 89; he died 14 months later. Annie thinks those months of tolerating an old man’s lust entitle her to part, if not half, of his fortune. His son disagrees, as folks who have catered to a rich father’s whims for years tend to do. The suit before the Supreme Sleazes actually doesn’t revolve around these mildly juicy particulars. Instead, it concerns whether a probate court in Houston outranks a bankruptcy court in California when deciding who gets to marshal the millions.
Nonetheless, the mundane facts moved Justice Stephen Breyer to aw-shucks rhetoric: “‘It’s quite a story,’ he marveled,” according to Wednesday’s New York Sun. Chief Justice John Roberts declared that the case involves “a substantial amount of assets.” The Sun coyly noted that he was “referring to the fortune of Ms. Smith’s husband.” Justice Clarence Thomas wisely stayed silent. Justice David Souter called Annie on her greed even if he ignored that same impulse when New London, CT, coveted poor people’s homes: he paraphrased her position as “I just want some money from this guy.”
Again, we might wonder how this case edged out 6,750 others to squeeze its way before the Court. And we return to the sleaze factor: a bench of men with the power to gawk for free at a trollop who normally charges for the privilege. Geez, why didn’t they simply visit her website? For, yes, Annie runs a website. Under the appropriately egomaniacal heading, “All About Me,” we find such confessions as “I’m an international model and have been on numerous magazine covers worldwide. I was crowned Playboy Playmate of the Year.” (Psst, Annie: never admit this on your own. Prosecutors and enemies will unearth this sort of dirt soon enough.) “I am an Actress,” (love the upper-case A! Think it’ll work for us? “I am an Accountant.” “I am an Analyst.” “I am an Airhead Who Thinks Capitals Impart Meaning to My Babble.”) “I have had my own show, you know, ‘The Anna Nicole Show’ on E!” Mercifully, she spares us the whole of her sordid tale: “There?s so much more, but bios are boring and I don?t feel like writing any more.”No doubt few of her fans would read it, anyway, what with the “photo gallery” beckoning. Annie even plans a “Members Only” section with further and, shall we presume, even more explicit photos. For those without any life whatsoever, Annie offers a newsletter: “Wanna be part of my club? Fill out the mailing list form below and get updates about my life and events before anyone else does — except The National Enquirer.” Wow! Christmas all year ’round! “Or,” she simpers, “just tell me how much you love me!”
Why do I weary you with the inanities of an immoral moron? Merely to prove that the men we pay big bucks to adjudicate Constitutional issues could have hopped on the web and accessed all the naughty pictures and double entendres they wanted. Giving one of the scarce slots in their calendar to this hussy was about as offensive as it gets.
The media has reported this story with the wink-wink and sly smile it deserves. Yet statists of both the liberal and neocon varieties should be infuriated that their god has been reduced to a pimp, securing titillation for men whose usual eye-candy is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Those who favor limited government ought to ask how it is that cases before the nation’s highest bench now depend on the litigant’s measurements and provocative pursuits.
Only we anarchists are laughing. Because, once again, Leviathan struts its silly stuff.
Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.