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Monday, December 10, 2012

Crystalline statutes and mazelike tours

This fall, I have been covering Kloeckner v. Solis for SCOTUSBlog (case preview here, argument review here). The Court decided the case on Monday, holding 9-0 (per Justice Kagan) that any federal employee who was terminated and also subject to discrimination (a so-called "mixed case") can seek review of a Merit Systems Protection Board decision by filing suit under the discrimination statute in federal district court, rather than having to appeal to the Federal Circuit (which hears MSPB appeals in non-discrimination cases). Lyle Denniston wrote the recap for SCOTUSBlog; I just want to add a few more points.

My prior pieces on this case highlighted the constant refrains about the complexity of the case and of the statutory scheme (oral argument was filled with "say that again?" and "slower, please"). Kagan's opinion does a great job of simlifying the statute and the question, laying out the relevant provisions, explaining how they work together, and insisting that the right answer is "crystalline" from the text itself. The Court is often criticized for clouding the waters; it is nice to see a case that clarifies and produces the simplest approach. In contrast, she rejects (and disparages) the government's "mazelike tour" through the statute; after laying out the government's statutory argument in detail, Kagan says "[i]f you need to take a deep breath after all that, you're not alone."

I have written previously that Justice Kagan is a terrific writer and her opinions are a pleasure to read. This case is no exception--sharp and snappy and, obviously, quite sardonic. She makes a great read out of a case that was always destined to go to the junior-most justice (do you think she's looking forward to President Obama's next appointment?).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 10, 2012 at 10:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law Review Review | Permalink


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Great opinion -- it should be added, in whole, to the various casebooks on legislation & statutory interpretation.

I suspect that Justice Scalia is responsible for the final sentence of the 4th footnote, though. ("In any event, even the most formidable argument concerning the statute's purposes could not overcome the clarity we find in the statute's text.")

Posted by: andy | Dec 11, 2012 1:22:38 AM

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