What’s in a name? In legal cases, sometimes everything. Here’s a highlight from some Supreme Court cases over time that sound bizarre and ridiculous but had lasting implications, not just for parties involved, but for all Americans.
For example, is a tomato a fruit or vegetable? This has to be decided in the Supreme Court. Technically, it is a fruit, but it’s been popularly considered a vegetable. That “veggie” label meant a very high tax rate for a family that imported a lot of tomatoes back in the 1880s, so they sued to try to get the tomato called by its more technically accurate name. That change would save them lots of money. So they tried to argue that it’s actually a fruit, but the law sided with popular culture.
The Supreme Court also had to weigh in on who owns the sky. For one chicken farmer who kept his flock under the path of a busy airstrip, he argued the space over his land was his. His chickens probably would have argued that as well though they were too busy dying of fright as the planes roared overhead. The old common law indicated that a landowner owned everything to hell and heaven, which would put this chicken farmer’s dibs solidly on the airspace above his farm. However, the highest court in the land decided that rather than an “infinite distance” there was instead “a safe distance as to which various aeroplanes could take off and land near the property.” They calculated that to as high as 1,000 ft, but that was about it. For this particular farmer, this meant that the planes did indeed fly in his own airspace, and was thus awarded a sum to help compensate for his dead birds.
Last but not least, like beauty, “annoying” is also in the eye of the beholder. In a case that began in Cincinnati and went all the way to the Supreme Court, a city ordinance declared a protest could be shut down if it annoyed citizens, but the students who organized the protest argued that it was within their constitutional rights to protest. The Supreme Court agreed, with this ruling:
“The ordinance before us makes a crime out of what under the Constitution cannot be a crime. It is aimed directly at activity protected by the Constitution. We need not lament that we do not have before us the details of the conduct found to be annoying. It is the ordinance on its face that sets the standard of conduct and warns against transgression. The details of the offense could no more serve to validate this ordinance than could the details of an offense charged under an ordinance suspending unconditionally the right of assembly and free speech. The judgment is reversed.”
For a full article on these and other interesting though strange cases, click here.
If you’ve got a case where you feel someone negligently harmed you, call me. It doesn’t have to be bizarre, but the unfortunately too-normal cases of auto crashes and other types of accidents are our passion and expertise. For info on some of our case results, none of which involved the Supreme Court, click here.