A first at the U.S. Supreme Court

January 11, 2011

New Justice Elena Kagan’s first written ruling was released, an 18-page opinion in a bankruptcy-tax case, the first arguments in the court’s term that began in October.

The ruling was not a blockbuster.

In her opinion, Kagan said a debtor who does not make loan or lease payments may not take a car ownership deduction.

USA-COURT/KAGANShe ruled against Jason Ransom, who filed for bankruptcy in Nevada in 2006. He owned his car, a Toyota Camry, outright, and claimed a $471 per month deduction for car ownership expenses. The trustee and some creditors objected. Kagan agreed with them.

“In short, Ransom may not deduct loan or lease expenses when he does not have any,” wrote Kagan, who was nominated for the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama and approved by the Senate in August.

The ruling partly turned on interpreting the language of the bankruptcy law, which provides that a debtor may claim only “applicable” expense amounts.

While the law does not define applicable, Kagan in summarizing her opinion from the bench cited dictionary definitions such as relevance and appropriate.

In the past, first opinions by a Supreme Court justice have often come in noncontroversial cases decided unanimously.
Seven other justices joined Kagan’s opinion. But one dissented — Justice Antonin Scalia.

Photo credit: Reuters/

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