Home Court

     Here’s something I bet you didn’t know: the U. S. Supreme Court has its own basketball court.
     I learned this after hearing a National Public Radio report on the sort of perks that a new Supreme Court justice will enjoy. And one of them was a fitness center complete with a basketball court.
     Form mental picture.
     Think really old guys in black robes dribbling down court.
     As a journalist for many, many decades (it may even be centuries), I’ve always thought that Supreme Court hearings should be televised. One of the most important centers of government shouldn’t be shrouded in myth and mystery.
     But now I’m ready to give up that hope if I can trade it for something ever so much better: televised Supreme Court basketball games.
     I want to see point guard Ruth Bader Ginsburg driving the lane and dishing off to John Paul Stevens for a power slam dunk. I want to hear Antonin Scalia talking trash and screaming at referees.
     Come on. Wouldn’t you pay for that pay-per-view?
     And how about a matchup with the Big O team from down the street?
     This may be why the court abstains from political decisions.
     BREW YOUR OWN. OK, I’ve been accused of being too cynical about lawyers who file class actions, but I’ve never said all of them are bad. Lots of wrongs need to be righted on behalf of the defenseless by well-meaning advocates.
     But lots of other wrongs aren’t quite so much in need of righting.
     New case in point: Loeffler v. Target Corporation from the California Court of Appeal in which lawyers went to court to champion the right of people ordering cups of coffee to go not to be charged sales tax.
     Hey, that extra 20 cents could have bought some needy person half a candy bar.
     You can’t even excuse this as a way of getting back at a greedy corporation because the money is going to the state government (which is insolvent enough without taking away its coffee tax).
     In a way, though, I’m sort of glad this issue got litigated because I learned a fascinating thing: people (or at least people in California) who pay sales taxes are not taxpayers.
     You’d think paying a tax would be enough to qualify a person as a taxpayer but according to the court here that’s not true. According to the ruling, the retailer (Target, in this case) is the taxpayer because it pays the state and California law says only taxpayers can appeal.
     All those coffee drinkers are not paying taxes – they’re reimbursing the coffee sellers who are paying the tax. Said the court: “Because they are not the taxpayers, plaintiffs cannot file a claim for a sales tax refund and thus cannot file a suit for a sales tax refund.”
     And the taxpayer is the company that’s not spending any of its own money to pay the state.
     Don’t look at me. I just report this stuff.
     Again, let me reiterate that I’m not insensitive to human suffering. The ruling points out that one of the plaintiffs in 2006 had to pay 71 cents in sales tax on Target hot coffee.
     By my calculation, that means she spent about $8.35 on Target coffee. There is suffering here. Probably mostly heartburn.
     Now consider the law practice question. A distraught client comes in to your office desperately seeking the return of 71 cents wrongfully taken from her simply because she ordered coffee.
     Do you advise years of litigation and a crusade against the injustice?
     Or do you recommend the purchase of a coffeemaker?
     Law schools need to better prepare us for this sort of thing.

%d bloggers like this: