Now, for the substance of the WaPo's report:
The justices are dealing with a technical question: When may federal courts hear claims that involve state probate proceedings? Smith lost in Texas state courts, which found that E. Pierce Marshall was the sole heir to his father's estate....What, you aren't entertained by diversity jurisdiction? Hey, I teach this subject, and, much as I would inject enthusiasm into the topic in class, I admit it's pretty technical. Law aside, I just can't help wanting Anna Nicole to get the money.
"Most people will do a double take," said Edward Morrison, a former Supreme Court clerk who specializes in bankruptcy law at Columbia University. "It raises the novelty level and makes a technical issue somewhat more entertaining."
UPDATE: Here's a report on the oral argument:
A U.S. bankruptcy judge in California initially awarded Smith $474 million, but that was later reduced to about $90 million. A federal appeals court eventually tossed out the entire award, saying the bankruptcy judge should never have heard the case.I love when the justices paraphrase the argument in blunt terms! Anyway, they're only deciding the jurisdiction question, so these intimations about the substantive merits of the case don't mean much. It sounds as though she's going to win on the jurisdiction point, which is about whether a limitation that the Court has read into the diversity jurisdiction statute applies ought also to apply in a bankruptcy jurisdiction case.
Several justices expressed sharp skepticism that only the Texas state court could settle the dispute over the estate.
"That's not the way our system works," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "I've never heard a state probate court say you cannot bring a claim in another court."
The justices Tuesday seemed especially interested in several details of the dispute: whether documents were tampered with, whether Smith was kept from her husband's bedside as he was dying, and the amount of money she would receive if she were to win the case.
"'I just want some money from this guy.' That's all she's saying," Justice David Souter said. "Just give me the money I would have had."