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A Fish Is a Tangible Object, You Say? The Majority Didn’t Describe It That Way

Property of Dr. Seuss's estate, obviously

Mr. Yates caught some fish that he shouldn’t have hoarded,

Because of the risk that his ship would be boarded.

An officer noticed that some were too small,

And ordered the man to hang onto them all

‘Til returning to port. There he’d face a charge

For keeping these juvenile fish on his barge.

But in port, when the officer then got back on,

It turned out that the juvenile fish were all gone!

They went back in the sea. Were nowhere to be seen!

Breaking Title 18 section 1519.

That section says that the law won’t abide

Tossing federal evidence over the side.

The problem, said Yates, is that this was a fish,

And not, as these federal agents might wish,

A “tangible object” in federal law.

It doesn’t apply to those fish that you saw!

Only documents, hard drives, and so on, you see.

Not evidence that can survive in the sea.

Another law covered his conduct, he thought,

“But 1519, Yates insisted, did not.”

After trial, which did not go the fisherman’s way,

The Court of Appeals then had something to say.

It affirmed, applying the plain-language norm:

It’s anything having a physical form.

You might think that we don’t need to say anymore

Except the high court then reversed it, 5-4.

The plurality (no, five just couldn’t agree)

Decided that this section 1519

Does not cover fish. It found that absurd!

Though it then had to use at least some Latin words

To explain the reversal and interpretation

It announced, to the thanks of an interested nation.

(So why in the world, I am hearing you say,

Did you write this ridiculous post in this way?

You’re almost at 300 words. Did you know it?

Well, if you’ll shut up for a second, I’ll show it.)

FishJustice Kagan, dissenting, said it was quite clear

That an “object” is simply an object, my dear.

And a fish is an object. It’s tangible, too.

Just like a crocodile, rock, or Peru.

Well, she didn’t say that. But all noticed her use

Of a cite for this proposition to Seuss.1

But she was outnumbered. And so, by one vote,

Mr. Yates can now go and get back on his boat

As soon as he finishes serving the time

For the lesser of two fishy fisherman crimes.

So Kagan’s to blame, or at least my excuse

For writing a post sort of like Dr. Seuss.

I just wish that Yates had been on a safari,

So I’d have some excuse to rhyme “certiorari.”


1 “A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form. See generally Dr. Seuss, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960).” Yates v. United States, No. 13-7451, slip op. at 2 (U.S. Feb. 25, 2015) (Kagan, J. dissenting).