Thursday, February 28, 2008
Terrierman at the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court was an exciting place Wednesay morning as the Exxon Valdez finally hit its last beach ... or bench, your choice.
At its core, the case is about a drunken sailor (Joseph Hazelwood) and the liablity Exxon has for a massive oil spill from the Exxon Valdez oil tanker.
Ironically, Exxon later demoted another captain with an alcohol problem (a fellow by the name of Ellenwood, believe it or not) after he went to treatment. They were sued in that case too, but this time for discrimation under a state law. That case has already made its way to the Supreme Court.
The real liability issue for Exxon, of course, is one of their own making: They keep putting the company name on oil tankers that can reasonably be expected to make the news whenever they run aground, leak, or blow up. At what point do you come to realize that this might be bad marketing?
Believe it or not, the geniuses at Chevron once named a tanker the "Chevron Condoleezza Rice" (no, I am not making this up), before they were persuaded that maybe that was a bad idea. The boat has since been renamed the "Altair Voyager."
As luck would have it, I attended my first Supreme Court case on Tuesday (Allison Engine Company v. United States). The Supreme Court chamber itself only holds about 90 people, and this case was a bit more interesting to me than most of these kind of things are, as I knew the players and the facts of the case pretty well (it deals with alleged contract fraud and defective work on the Arleigh-Burke class destroyers).
It seems to me that being a Supreme Court justice is a pretty good gig. The court does not start until 9:30, so there's plenty of time for coffee and a danish, the arguments last less than two hours, and you are out for a catered lunch at noon. On top of this, you can wear anything, as the black robe covers it all, and since no one can see your feet, you can even wear bunny slippers to work if you want to. You don't even have to write your own opinions; the law clerks do that. Justice Rehnquist used to show up high as a kite on drugs, and no one seemed to mind.
That said, I think some of these justices might be carrying this "no-show job" a little far. It turns out Justice Clarence Thomas has not asked a single question in almost two years! Wow.
The Supreme Court itself was built in 1935, and I was paying particular attention to security and construction as I entered the court Tueday morning, as I wondered how a red fox could make its way into the building.
Because it did once. About five years ago.
Not knowing what to do about this wildlife invasion, someone over at the court called a Virginia hunt to come over with hounds and a border terrier to find the fox and drive it out.
When the story hit The Washington Post and The New York Times, a lot of folks figured it was me they had called (a working border terrier is not common anywhere and certainly not in the U.S.), but it was not.
Of course if they had called me, they might have actually found the fox!