27 April 2005

"I respectfully dissent"

Small v United States I love the nature and tone of the dissenting judgments from the US Supreme Court. The quote that follows is the final paragraph from one of Thomas J's dissents. The case itself was about the phrase "convicted in any court" in legislation prohibiting people with convictions from possessing firearms - the majority ruling that it encompassed only domestic, not foreign, convictions.
The Court never convincingly explains its departure from the natural meaning of §922(g)(1). Instead, it institutes the troubling rule that “any” does not really mean “any,” but may mean “some subset of ‘any,’ ” even if nothing in the context so indicates; it distorts the established canons against extraterritoriality and absurdity; it faults without reason Congress’ use of foreign convictions to gauge dangerousness and culpability; and it employs discredited methods of determining congressional intent. I respectfully dissent.

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Course Outline

Lord Justice Lawton in Maxwell v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] 2 All ER 122 said:

"From time to time ... lawyers and judges have tried to define what constitutes fairness. Like defining an elephant, it is not easy to do, although fairness in practice has the elephantine quality of being easy to recognise. As a result of these efforts a word in common usage has acquired the trappings of legalism: 'acting fairly' has become 'acting in accordance with the rules of natural justice', and on occasion has been dressed up with Latin tags. This phrase in my opinion serves no useful purpose and in recent years it has encouraged lawyers to try to put those who hold inquiries into legal straitjackets.... For the purposes of my judgment I intend to ask myself this simple question: did the [decision-maker] act fairly towards the plaintiff?"


This course examines the elephantine concept of fairness in the law, along with other contemporary legal issues.

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