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October 8, 1998

Judge Judy rules in Thomas case
In landmark decision, Judy offers radical re-reading of Third Amendment

NEW YORK — In a move that galvanized Constitutional law theorists nationwide, Judge Judy handed down her opinion in Thomas v. Thomas yesterday. Unconvinced by arguments made in the defense of 11-year-old Denise Thomas — and weary of her "lip" — Judy found Denise guilty of "wrongful parakeet death" and awarded pecuniary damages to her twin sister Melissa.

"The court rules for the plaintiff, young lady," said Judy, rising gruffly from the bench to the raucous cheers of courtroom observers. "I think you’d better learn some responsibility — and some manners."judy.jpg (23484 bytes)

The Thomas case has been dominating the pages of the top law reviews for months. Opinion has fallen largely into two camps: "strict constructionists," who believe that Denise’s spoken promise to "take care of Squawkers" while Melissa was away at tennis camp constituted a legally binding agreement; and "judicial activists," who cite precedent to argue that Squawkers was "Melissa’s problem" and that despite her absence, Melissa was at fault for its lack of feeding and subsequent death.

Judy’s landmark opinion — a carefully worded 45-page document that draws heavily on both precedent in the federal courts and common law — places her squarely in the latter camp. The decision angered many conservatives on the federal bench, who consider her reasoning rash.

Justice Antonin Scalia lashed out yesterday in a strenuous dissent, branding Judy’s opinion "shotgun jurisprudence" and wondering whether the basic tenets of the Constitution have "been left to starve like so many parakeets." Later in the day an incensed Robert Bork stormed into Judy’s courtroom, where he was pummeled into submission by trusty bailiff Petri Hawkins-Byrd.

Liberals were far more positive. "What Judy has wrought today can only be called a cunning re-reading of the whole cloth of the Constitution, one that will likely baffle and inspire jurists for years to come," wrote Laurence Tribe in an amicus curiae brief. "It would seem that the court of common sense is finally back in session — Judge Judy presiding!"

Constitutional scholars are especially intrigued by the ruling’s re-interpretation of the Third Amendment. Judy’s linkage of negligent pet care, which would seem to involve issues of verbal contracts and good faith agreements, to the Third Amendment, which would seem to prohibit the government from quartering soldiers in citizens’ homes, has alternately been described as "innovative" and "puzzling" by scholars.

Also puzzling to scholars is how Judge Judy has managed to assume the power of constitutional judicial review, a power which, at least since Marbury v. Madison, has ostensibly fallen to the Supreme Court. The question seemed especially pressing yesterday, given that Judy’s opinion in the Thomas case termed the Third Amendment "a bunch of hooey."

Indeed, two hours after the ruling, an entire battalion of Army infantry arrived at the Thomases’ home and forcibly occupied their basement rec room. Officials confirmed that soldiers nationwide were beginning to emerge from military bases in violent packs, using their government-issued weaponry to subdue American citizens and commandeer their domiciles.

"We’ve labored under the restrictive language of that amendment for far too long," said General Henry H. Shelton, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as he munched a toaster pastry in the queen-size bed in the Thomases’ master bedroom. "Life on the bases is hard for our soldiers. The beds are uncomfortable. The food is terrible. There’s only one kind of Sunny Delight – California Style — instead of the three kinds of Sunny D that are available to civilians. We can’t build the world’s top fighting machine under those conditions."

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