(FiveNation.com)- This week, the Supreme Court found itself in a rather odd position for this court, with a 5-4 decision.
This is an oddity, since the court sits with a 6-3 conservative majority. In this case in question, Bittner v. U.S., conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett penned the dissent, and liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson also broke with liberals to side with the other conservatives.
In the case, Jackson – who is President Joe Biden’s lone appointment to the high court – she joined in on a key section that Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his majority opinion. That part of the opinion included Gorsuch endorsing what’s known as special solicitude for the due process rights of federal defendants.
The Bittner case is a rather minor one that dealt with civil penalties handed down to people who don’t disclose all of the foreign accounts that they own to the IRS. The way that Jackson ruled in this case, though, does seem to hint that she has some libertarianism in her, which would make her much different from the other two justices on the high court who are considered progressive.
The case revolved around a certain provision contained in the Bank Secrecy Act that requires all U.S. residents and citizens to file an IRS report annually that lays out every foreign account they own if the money that’s in totals more than $10,000 in aggregate.
Anyone who doesn’t file these reports inadvertently could face a penalty of as much as $10,000 for every violation. The problem, though, has been how can the law be enforced, because it’s hard to determine what’s an actual “violation” of that law.
The defendant in this case, Alexandru Bittner, who is the owner of nearly 300 foreign accounts, and he failed to report on them for five years. If he were to be fined $10,000 for each report in question, he could face a total fine of $50,000. If he were to be fined for each account, he would owe $2.72 million.
The Supreme Court narrowly ruled in Bittner’s favor this week.
Gorsuch pointed out two reasons why he believed the BSA should be interpreted narrowly. He first said the IRS has taken inconsistent stances in the past toward enforcement.
The second reason is what’s known as lenity, which says courts have to interpret laws in favor of defendants, and against the federal government, when the laws are ambiguous or unclear. While this is usually used in criminal cases, it can be applied to civil fines as well.
This is the part of the opinion that only Jackson joined. The other three justices who joined the majority opinion – Chief Justice John Roberts, and conservative justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh – decided not to join in on that part of the opinion.
So, is this something that could be a theme going forward? Maybe. If it is, it’s certainly something that many Democrats could end up having a major issue with.