Kagan’s First Day on Bench Highlights Start of 2010-2011 Supreme Court Term

Kagan's First Day on Bench Highlights Start of 2010-2011 Supreme Court Term

Kagan's First Day on Bench Highlights Start of 2010-2011 Supreme Court Term

Monday marked the first day of newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s tenure on the bench.  As far as court days go, it was relatively uneventful, making Kagan’s first day the highlight of the event.

As the newest member of the court, Kagan took the traditional spot for the most junior court justice furthest from the right of Chief Justice John Roberts.  Kagan presided over only one case on the day while being recused from the day’s second case because of her previous work as solicitor general.

The one case Kagan did sit in on was Ransom v. FIA Card Services.  During the case, the justices looked at the ambiguous wording in parts of the bankruptcy law.  The wording of the law appears to allow a debtor to shield income by deducting ownership costs of a vehicle, even if the car has been paid for.

Jason Ransom, owing more than $80,000 in credit card debt, was given an ownership expense of $471 a month for a vehicle he owned outright.  The expense allowance would have shielded nearly $28,000 of his income over the course of his five-year repayment plan.

A number of the justices were at a loss for how a person who owned a vehicle outright would be able to receive the same bankruptcy break as someone making a payment on a loan or lease.  Kagan was among those befuddled by the lower court’s ruling.  However, Roberts seemed to understand and agree with the earlier ruling, pointing out that even if an individual only paid a single dollar on a car loan during the repayment period they would be entitled to the full benefit because it was based on the average car payment and not the actual costs of the vehicle. 

Kagan asked 10 questions during the proceedings, indicating that she will live up to her promise to be an active questioner during oral arguments.  Other than Justice Clarence Thomas, Kagan’s fellow justices asked a similar number of questions as her.


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