Wednesday, January 05, 2005

More on Thomas

An ERISA lawyer analyzes Senator Reid's comments, and adds this bit of praise for Thomas's opinions:
My own evaluation of Justice Thomas’ work is based primarily on his opinions in ERISA and employee benefits cases, the area of law in which I practice. It is a good test of jurisprudential acumen, for no member of the Court has much ERISA expertise. Ability to make sense when venturing into unfamiliar legal terrain is a vital skill for Justices, who are the final arbiters of all statutory and common law but cannot possibly possess antecedent mastery of the whole.

By this criterion, Justice Thomas is one of the Court’s best jurists. His ERISA opinions are, with rare exceptions, clear, pithy and accurately reasoned. I particularly recommend for perusal his majority opinions in Hughes Aircraft Co. v. Jacobson (1999), which swept away years of confusion about the meaning of ERISA’s exclusive purpose rule, Egelhoff v. Egelhoff (2001), which strengthened and clarified ERISA’s prohibition against state interference with employee benefit plan administration, and Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila (2004), which reduced the murkiness of the Court’s conflicting rulings on the scope of ERISA preemption, his dissents in John Hancock Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Harris Trust & Savings Bank (1993) and Varity Corporation v. Howe (1996), and his concurrence in Raymond B. Yates, M.D., P.C. Profit Sharing Plan v. Hendon (2004), where he catches a fellow Justice in egregious circular reasoning and displays his talent for close reading of the statutory text. I don’t think that any fair observer, including one who disagreed with Justice Thomas’ conclusions, can deny that he argues well and writes forcefully. The contrast with many of his colleagues’ blurry, meandering forays into employee benefits law is striking.
Stuart Buck


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't the previous piece you posted suggest that Justice Thomas spent a lot of time in law school on things like corporate law as opposed to constitutional law and various racial and ethnic studies; that might explain his work on ERISA.

6:23 PM  

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