These are the nation's most eminent legal minds? Read this article in today's New York Times, about the U.S. Supreme Court's debate over whether to allow the state to claim beach property that it recovers through anti-erosion measures. Or let's just cut right straight to the high court's high-minded dialogue:
"If somebody wanted to put up a hot dog stand on this new land," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked, "would you have the right to tell them they can't?"
"Absolutely not," Mr. (D. Kent) Safriet (a lawyer for the beach property owners) answered.
Justice (Stephen G.) Breyer said the relevant law did protect the owners' right to enjoy their land in peace, meaning they could at a minimum ban "a noisy hot dog stand that keeps you up at night."
Justice Antonin Scalia found the middle ground, as it were. "You can have quiet hot dog stands during the daytime," he said.
Wild guess: This exchange occurred just before noon on the day the Supreme Court cafeteria was serving hot dogs.
It's a pity that the one Supreme Court justice who has firsthand experience with Florida beaches -- Justice John Paul Stevens -- had to recuse himself. As we told you in Ocotober, Stevens has a home on Fort Lauderdale Beach.
Back to the eight justices remaining.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor added that even before the beach project, "a hot dog stand could have sat in the water."
Justice Scalia suggested that the owners might have lost something of substantial value. "People pay a lot more money for beachfront homes," he said, than they do for "a house behind the beach at Coney Island."
Still, Justice Scalia added, the wider beach and the protection from erosion and hurricanes it provided had value, too. "I'm not sure it's a bad deal," he said.
Wait, let's go back to that hot dog stand in the water: Where does Justice Sotomayor go swimming? And does she know not to look for a gravy boat in the ocean? Is she Homer Simpson?
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Seriously, Scalia has a good point. (Did I just say that?) Rich, oceanfront property owners can't demand that government use our tax dollars to have agencies save their private beaches from erosion, only to then ask that government to protect the beaches from public, tax-paying citizens.
Whatever the case, a hot dog stand is not a likely menace to those beachfront property owners. Can we agree on that?
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said that the owners might have more to fear than a lone hot dog vendor, wet or dry. "You could have televised spring-break parties in front of somebody's house," Justice Alito said.
All right. I give up.