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5 (Kind of) Thanksgiving-Related SCOTUS Rulings to Savor

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

There's no more American holiday than Thanksgiving. (Well, except maybe Independence Day. And doesn't Canada have a Thanksgiving, too?) A day filled with overeating, over-drinking, and then football? Sign me up!

Thanksgiving has popped up over the years at the U.S. Supreme Court as well, though it didn't involve Chief Justice Rehnquist falling asleep on the couch watching the Stanford game. It's mostly involved the "War on Christmas."

So help yourself to this bountiful cornucopia of Supreme Court rulings (OK, we actually only found five) that include Thanksgiving references -- or at least sound like they should:

1. Utah Pie Co. v. Continental Baking (1967).

Utah Pie Co. (mmm... pie) sued three other frozen pie companies for conspiracy for trying to drive Utah Pie Co. out of business by agreeing to undersell it in markets where Utah Pie Co. sold its frozen pies. Reversing the court of appeals, the Court found that there was enough evidence for the jury to find illegal price discrimination.

2. Lynch v. Donnelly (1984).

This case was Patient Zero in the "War on Christmas." The Court concluded that a town-sponsored Nativity scene didn't violate the Lemon test because it had a secular purpose and was included in a scene with other, secular Christmas representations. As part of Chief Justice Burger's reasoning, he noted that Thanksgiving -- now a secular holiday -- began as a religious one:

President Washington and his successors proclaimed Thanksgiving, with all its religious overtones, a day of national celebration and Congress made it a National Holiday more than a century ago. That holiday has not lost its theme of expressing thanks for Divine aid any more than has Christmas lost its religious significance.

3. Wallace v. Jaffree (1985).

Again with the religion! This time, the Supreme Court said it wasn't cool for Alabama teachers to set aside a minute at the beginning of each day for meditation or silent prayer. Dissenting, Justice Rehnquist again pointed out how even Thomas Jefferson considered Thanksgiving a religious event:

Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.

4. McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005).

In this case where the Court said a county court couldn't display the Ten Commandments in a court room, Justice Souter pushed back against those previous claims that Washington and Jefferson thought Thanksgiving, now a secular holiday, had a religious purpose that should be made public:

The historical record, moreover, is complicated beyond the dissent's account by the writings and practices of figures no less influential than Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Jefferson, for example, refused to issue Thanksgiving Proclamations because he believed that they violated the Constitution.

5. Pilgrim's Pride v. Agerton (Fifth Circuit, 2013; Cert. Denied, 2014).

In February, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from an antitrust claim that chicken grower Pilgrim's Pride slowed down production in an attempt to manipulate chicken prices. The Fifth Circuit had reversed a $25 million judgment against Pilgrim's Pride, finding the plaintiffs hadn't demonstrated an intent to fix prices.

So you can give thanks to the Supreme Court for the "War on Christmas" and ensuring a steady supply of moderately priced frozen pies, before you fall asleep in a pool of cranberry sauce.

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