“De Minimis Non Curat Lex” at One First Street

November 5th, 2013

The maxim, “de minimis not curat lex,” roughly translates to the “law does not concern itself with trifles.” In other words, the law doesn’t care about stupid stuff. But after the Breyer page, and questions about giving horses poisoned potatoes and pouring vinegar in goldfish bowls, Solicitor General dismissed the frivolity, calling it “serious business.”

Unfortunately, the guys in the robes get to say that, not him.

JUSTICE BREYER: Okay. Now, we’re outside the annex. And I guess once we get outside the annex, we either have to draw lines or we have to say, well, this encompasses the poison potato, the poisoned goldfish, the small boy with the candle, the — for performance-enhancing drugs. I would say judges are here to draw lines, and between throwing all those things into it or drawing lines, it’s better to draw a few lines.

GENERAL VERRILLI: We can — we can talk about hypotheticals, but the key point about them is that they’re hypothetical.

JUSTICE BREYER: No, no. These are real cases, by the way. The poison potato was in fact -­

I can see Verrilli rolling his eyes here.


GENERAL VERRILLI: The vinegar and the goldfish is not a real case, and I would submit that de minimis non curat lex.

JUSTICE ALITO: They’re not real — they’re not real cases because you haven’t prosecuted them yet. (Laughter.)

JUSTICE ALITO: If you told ordinary people  that you were going to prosecute Ms. Bond for using a  chemical weapon, they would be flabbergasted. It’s -­  it — it’s so far outside of the ordinary meaning of the  word.

Alito poured it on.

JUSTICE ALITO: This statute has an enormous — an enormous breadth, anything that can cause death or injury to a person or an animal. Would it shock you if I told you that a few days ago my wife and I distributed toxic chemicals to a great number of children? (Laughter.)

GENERAL VERRILLI: Your Honor, I understand the point.

JUSTICE ALITO: On Halloween we gave them chocolate bars. Chocolate is poison to dogs, so it’s a toxic chemical under the chemical weapons -­

I see that Justice Alito does not hand out fruit. Or Constitutions!?

Then, Scalia just had to get in on the fun. And this seemed to piss of Verrilli:

JUSTICE SCALIA: Do horses eat potatoes? I didn’t know horses ate potatoes.

GENERAL VERRILLI: This is serious business. With all due respect, the line that the Petitioner is asking -­

And Breyer had to bring in Syria:

And we can tell joke after joke, but it’s not a joke that it’s so easy to make up examples that seem to have nothing to do with the problem of chemical weapons like the Syrian problem, nothing to do with that.

Sometimes the Court needs a grownup to chaperone.