Ambiguous laws can cause problems for businesses and individuals. This is borne out by the recent Supreme Court decision in Yates vs U.S. Much to the chagrin of federal prosecutors, the Court ruled on Feb. 25 that the anti-shredding provision of 2002’s Sarbanes-Oxley law (Sarbox) does not apply to fish – something that most laymen would view as obvious since Sarbox was put in place to prevent corporate malfeasance not protect undersized fish.
In the case, the prosecution alleged that the anti-shredding provision (section 1519) of Sarbox applied to three undersized grouper fish John Yates caught in 2007 but were subsequently found to be missing. In the 5-4 decision Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote that “only objects one can use to record or preserve information, not all objects in the physical world,” are covered under Sarbox, which was implemented to prevent corporate malfeasance.
Even in the dissenting opinion, Justice Elaine Kagan commented that the section is a “bad law….which gives prosecutors too much leverage and sentencers too much discretion.”