Thursday, February 08, 2007

After the Gavel: Anna Nicole Smith & Other Star-Crossed Litigants

In law school, no case receives more than an hour's attention – Marbury v. Madison? Brown v. Board? Roe v. Wade? The Steel Seizure Case? Each gets an hour, tops. As law students hop from case to case, they generally leave each case with a sense of permanence: The matter between the parties is resolved. The issue is put to rest. Next case.

Anna Nicole Smith's sudden and tragic passing today highlights, the lives of the litigants go on after their famous day in court concludes. As we skip around the law, we generally do so unaware that the parties to a well-known case might not have lived happily ever once they left the courthouse.

As Adam notes elsewhere in this blog, it is with sadness that we learn of Ms. Smith's fate; however, she is not the first litigant to die soon after a major court victory or defeat. It's sad but unsurprising when a gravely injured litigant dies soon after their day in court. It's altogether different when a seemingly healthy party dies shortly after the final gavel.

Anna Nicole Smith: An icon of popular culture, Ms. Smith was one of the most immediately recognized and well-known Americans; however, she only gained the professional attention of the legal community through the protracted legal battle over her late husband's estate — a battle ultimately leading to her SCOTUS victory in Marshall v. Marshall, 126 S.Ct. 1735 (2006).

In something of an ironic twist of fate, Ms. Smith is predeceased by E. Pierce Marshall, the named defendant in Marshall v. Marshall and son of Smith's husband J. Howard Marshall II. Mr. Marshall died of an infection on June 20, 2006, less than two months after losing at the Supreme Court.

Tyrone Garner: Although Mr. Garner's name is not immediately recognizable to most law students, his legacy as co-plaintiff in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), represents a monumental leap forward for gay rights in the United States. Unfortunately, Mr. Garner's chance to relish this powerful victory was short lived, and he died of meningitis on September 12, 2006.

Richard Loving: Although Richard and Mildred Loving's successful battle against Virginia's ban on interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), would have a profound effect on marriage in America, their own marriage would be tragically cut short. On June 29, 1975, Richard, Mildred, and Mildred's sister Garnet were traveling by car when they were hit by a drunk driver, killing Richard. Richard Loving was 41.

Dred Scott: In the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1856), the Supreme Court determined that slaves could not be citizens of the United States: a decision that helped provoke a civil war, led directly to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and ultimately to the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

For better or worse, Dred Scott experienced none of these subsequent developments. Having been granted his freedom by his eventual owners in early 1858, Scott died of tuberculosis on September 17, 1858.

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