Article co-authored by Lisa Bressman cited in SCOTUS case dissent in Yates v. U.S.

Mar 25, 2015

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Lisa BressmanAn article co-authored by Associate Dean Lisa Schultz Bressman with Abbe R. Gluck, “Statutory Interpretation from the Inside—An Empirical Study of Congressional Drafting, Delegation and the Canons” (65 Stanford Law Review, 2013) was cited in Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent in the Supreme Court’s decision in Yates v. U.S., handed down February 25.

Justice Kagan cited the first of a two-part article by Bressman, who also holds a David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair of Law, and Gluck, a professor at Yale Law School, published in the Stanford Law Review in 2013 and 2014. Their study addressed the role “the realities of the legislative drafting process” should play in statutory interpretations.

Yates v. U.S., a case that attracted widespread media attention, addressed a challenge by commercial fisherman John Yates of his conviction for violating the Sarbanes Oxley Act, which makes it a crime to “knowingly…destroy[] any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence” a federal investigation—even one that has yet to be announced. Yates was charged with the violation three years after Florida state fish and wildlife officers helping to enforce federal fishing restrictions boarded his boat in 2007 to inspect his catch. They determined that 72 red grouper among the 3,000 fish in his catch were too small and ordered him to return to port for further inspection.

When Yates returned to port, federal officers inspected his catch and found 69, not 72, undersized fish. A crew member reported that Yates had ordered the crew to throw the undersized fish overboard. Yates was ultimately convicted of violating the Sarbanes Oxley Act’s prohibition of actions intended to “impede, obstruct, and influence” a federal investigation by destruction of “tangible objects”—in this case, three undersized fish. He appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, claiming that the law was intended to apply to documents and records, not fish.

The Court reversed Yates’ conviction in a 5-4 decision. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, in which she was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonya Sotomayor. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a separate concurrence.

Justice Kagan was joined in her dissent by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.


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