The Volokh Conspiracy

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Supreme Court

Justice Jackson's First Opinion in an Argued Case

To the junior-most justice goes a case arising out of the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction concerning the Abandoned Money Orders and Traveler's Checks Act.


Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson issued her first opinion for the Court today in Delaware v. Pennsylvania. Justice Jackson had previously authored dissents from denial of certiorari and a stay denial, but this was her first opinion in an argued case.

As is common for a junior justice's first opinion, the subject matter is less-than scintillating—here a dispute among states over the right to escheat certain prepaid financial instruments under the Abandoned Money Orders and Traveler's Checks Act—and the Court was unanimous (although four justices—Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Barrett—declined to join one subpart of the opinion).

Here is how Justice Jackson summarizes the decision:

"Escheatment" is the power of a State, as a sovereign, to take custody of property deemed abandoned. Texas v. New Jersey, 379 U. S. 674, 675 (1965). In the context of tangible property, the escheatment rule is straightforward: The State in which the abandoned property is located has the power to take custody of it. Id., at 677. But determining which State has the power to escheat intangible property, which has no physical location, can be complicated, as multiple States may have arguable claims. See ibid.

These original jurisdiction cases require us to decide which States have the power to escheat the proceeds of certain abandoned financial products that MoneyGram Payment Systems, Inc. (MoneyGram) possesses. Delaware argues that this Court's common-law rules of escheatment apply, which means that the abandoned proceeds should go to Delaware as MoneyGram's State of incorporation. A collective of other States (the Defendant States) argues that a federal statute—the Disposition of Abandoned Money Orders and Traveler's Checks Act (Federal Disposition Act or FDA), 88 Stat. 1525, 12 U. S. C. §2501 et seq.—governs the products at issue, and therefore, as a general matter, the abandoned proceeds should escheat to the State where the products were purchased. We hold that the FDA covers the instruments in question and thus that they should generally escheat to the State of purchase, pursuant to §2503.

I blogged about Justice Jackson's first D.C. Circuit opinion here.