Supreme Court confused over telemarketing abuse case

I don’t think this is going to go down in the annals of judicial history along side Brown v. Board of Education and Dred Scott v. Sandford, but it may win some sort of award for making the Justices look silly. The Supremes are currently considering the case of Mims v. Arrow Financial Services. (No. 10-1195) It’s not that the case itself is silly, nor even particularly controversial. It deals with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which allows citizens to sue for up to $500 if they are repeatedly pestered by auto-dialers, recorded message calls or other such annoying, dinner interrupting intrusions via phone.

The question at hand seems to be whether or not the plaintiff may sue in federal court, rather than in “an appropriate court of that state” as specified in the act. From the initial reports, this one has the justices scratching their heads.

“This is the strangest statute I have ever seen,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said near the end of a Supreme Court argument on Monday.

The justices had spent most of the previous hour trying to puzzle out the meaning of a part of 1991 federal law that addresses telemarketing abuses, and they had reached consensus on only one point.

“Both sides agree it’s odd, and all nine justices agree it’s odd,” Justice Elena Kagan said. “I mean, I think we can say that this statute is odd. And the question is, where do we go from there?”

This may be a bit too much of a peek behind the curtain. What they’re arguing here is not so much the result of one particular decision (affecting Marcus D. Mims) or even the viability of the statute. They’re trying to decide if plaintiffs have standing to change venue and have their case heard in federal court. I’m sure wiser legal heads than mine will be able to explain why this is so vexing, but it seems a rather odd point to get stuck on.

Obviously, I’m more interested in finding out if they’ll hear the suit I’d like to bring. It involves whether or not I can drive down to the offices of the people who call me repeatedly during dinner to tell me about a great new credit card protection program and pelt them with rotten tomatoes. As I see it, as long as I give them enough warning so everyone can put on protective goggles, there’s not a jury in the land that would send me up for it. At least not if they have a phone.