Friday, August 7, 2015

TomatoCare And The Supreme Court

Let’s play make believe.

Late on a dark and stormy Saturday night, the Congressional Spartans - urged on by Poppa John's and the National Tomato Growers Association – passed a sweeping vegetable care bill by a vote of 220-215.

The bill went to the Senate, where its fate was sadly in doubt. The fearless majority leader Harry Leonidas negotiated agreements with several recalcitrant senators, including the slabjacking of New Orleans, an ongoing automatic bid for the Nebraska Cornhuskers to the college Bowl Championship Series and the relocation of Vermont to somewhere between North Carolina and Florida. After passage, the bill was signed by the president while on the back nine at Porcupine Creek in Rancho Mirage, California.

As a consequence of this visionary act, Americans now had access to affordable tomatoes, thanks to market reforms and consumer protections put into place by this law. The law had also begun to curb rising tomato prices across the system by cracking down on waste and fraud and creating powerful incentives for grocery chains to spend their resources more wisely. Americans were now protected from some of the worst industry abuses like out-of-season shortages that could cut off tomato supply when people needed them the most.

California, Vermont and Massachusetts established state exchanges to provide tomato subsidies to individuals whose household income levels were below the threshold triggering the maximum federal individual income tax rate (presently 39.6 percent). The remaining states had refused to establish their own exchanges, prompting the federal government to intervene. The Tax Exempt Organization Division at the IRS, recognized for their expertise in technology integration, data development and retention, was tasked to oversee the installation of federal exchanges in those backwater baronies. IRS Commissioner Koskinen stated that this would require a reallocation of existing budgetary funding and – as a consequence - the IRS would not be collecting taxes from anyone in the Central time zone during the forthcoming year.

The 54 states that did not establish their own exchanges filed a lawsuit (Bling v Ne’er-Do-Well) challenging a key part of the TomatoCare law, which read as follows:

The premium assistance amount determined under this subsection with respect to any vegetable coverage amount is the amount equal to the lesser of the greater…”

These benighted states pointed out that, botanically, a tomato was a fruit. A fruit was defined as a seed-bearing vessel developed from the ovary of a flowering plant. A vegetable, on the other hand, was any other part of the plant. By this standard, seedy growth such as bananas, apples and, yes, tomatoes, were all fruits.

There was great fear upon the land when the Supreme Court decided to hear the case.

Depending upon how the Supreme Court decided, there might be no tomato subsidies because tomatoes were not vegetables, a result clearly, unambiguously and irretrievably-beyond-dispute not the intent of Congress on that dark, hot, stormy, wintery Saturday night as they debated the merits of quitclaiming California to Mexico.

The case began under great susurration. The plaintiffs (the 54 moon landings) read into evidence definitions of the words “fruit” and “vegetables” from Webster’s Dictionary, Worcester’s Dictionary, the Imperial Dictionary and Snoop Dogg’s album “Paid tha Cost to Be da Bo$$.”

The Court acknowledged that the words “fruit” and “vegetable” were indeed words in the English language. As such, the Court was bound to take judicial notice, as it did in regard to all words in its own tongue, especially “oocephalus” and “bumfuzzle.” The Court agreed that a dictionary could be admitted in Court only as an aid to the memory and understanding of the Court and not as evidence of the meaning of words.

The Court went on:

Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of the vine. But in the common language of the 202 area code, all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens and, whether eaten cooked, steamed, boiled, roasted or raw, are like potatoes, carrots, turnips and cauliflower, usually served at dinner with, or after, the soup, fish, fowl or beef which constitutes the principal part of the repast.”

The Court decided:

            But it is not served, like fruits generally, as a dessert.”

With that, the Court decided that tomatoes were vegetables and not fruit. The challenge to TomatoCare was courageously halted, and the liberal wing of the Court – in a show of their fierce independence and tenacity of intellect – posed for a selfie and went to Georgetown to get matching tattoos.

Thus ends our make believe.

There was no TomatoCare law, of course, but there WAS an actual Supreme Court decision concerning tomatoes. Oh, you didn’t know?

Back in the 1880s the Port of New York was taxing tomatoes as vegetables. The Nix family, which imported tons of tomatoes, sued. They thought they had the law – and common sense – on their side. After all, science said that tomatoes were fruit. The only party who disagreed was the Collector of the Port of New York, hardly an objective juror.

The tax law in question was The Tariff of 1883, a historical curiosity now long gone, and the case was Nix v Hedden. 

And that is how we came to think of tomatoes as vegetables.

Brilliant legal minds, right?

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