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The 12 Days of SCOTUS: Part Tres

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

That light at the end of the tunnel isn't the Star of Bethlehem, it's the last installment of our 12 Days of SCOTUS.

So let's jump into the final four connections between the most annoying holiday song ever written and the Supreme Court.

4. Colly, Er, Calling Birds

What are colly birds? So glad you asked! According to Bird Watchers General Store -- which sound like a reliable authority on such matters -- a colly bird is a European blackbird. Which brings us to the Court's Willson v. Black-Bird Creek Marsh Co. opinion from 1829. In Willson, the Court was asked whether Delaware legislature unconstitutionally infringed upon Congress's powers under the Commerce Clause by creating and authorizing a company to build a dam on the Black-Bird Creek.

The Court unanimously held that the act was "an affair between the government of Delaware and its citizens," and was not in conflict with the Commerce Clause.

3. French Hens

The dead chickens at Thomas Lee Causby's farm are easily the most famous hens to earn a mention in a Court opinion. Causby and the chickens lived near an airport that the U.S. military frequently used. Low-flying aircraft annoyed Causby, but terrified the chickens: As many as six to ten chickens were killed in one day by flying into the walls from fright. Causby lost about 150 chickens to similar freakouts -- and had to get out of the chicken business due to the flight noise -- so he sued the government for "taking" his property.

The Court ruled, "Flights over private land are not a taking, unless they are so low and so frequent as to be a direct and immediate interference with the enjoyment and use of the land." Since the Causby had demonstrated a direct interference with his land, the Court agreed that he was entitled to compensation.

2. Turtle Doves

Doves are better-known for their symbolic value, but the Supreme Court pays more attention to turtles. Supreme Court architect Cass Gilbert incorporated a turtle motif into the Court building because the turtle symbolizes longevity, and the slow - yet deliberate pace of justice.

... And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Harvey Partridge -- the trustee of the late Benajah D. Andrews' bankruptcy estate -- petitioned to acquire title to the proceeds of Andrews' life insurance policies. The executrix of Andrews' estate also claimed the policy proceeds, and the case made its way through the courts.

The Court decided in 1913 that Partridge, as the trustee, was entitled to the cash surrender value of the policies as of the date of the petition, and that the bankrupt estate had no interest in the balance of the proceeds of the policies.

There you have it: More proof that the best of intentions in holiday-themed writing can go horribly awry. If it's any consolation, next year we'll limit such chicanery to an analysis of Rudolph's potential claims against Santa for deliberate indifference.

Until then, may your days -- and pleadings -- be merry and bright.

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