WASHINGTON – Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has written her first majority opinion for the Supreme Court.
The opinion released Tuesday in a dispute between states over unclaimed money is one of roughly a half dozen she is expected to write by the time the court finishes its work for the summer, usually in late June. The 23-page decision was unanimous, though all the justices didn’t join the whole opinion.
The justices sided with a group of states that said that Delaware had improperly received hundreds of millions of dollars in unclaimed funds over more than a decade that should have been shared among the states.
Each justice typically writes at least one opinion from the seven separate two-week arguments sessions the court holds from early October to late April. But in January and February, for example, the court has only seven argued cases each month, meaning there are not enough to go around.
Jackson, 52, joined the high court in June following the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer. She is the first Black woman to serve as a justice and just the third Black person on the court. The others are Justice Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving among the nine justices, and the late Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Jackson's first majority opinion came in a case involving two products sold by the money-transfer company MoneyGram: the company’s “teller’s checks” and “agent checks.” Customers can buy the checks at banks and credit unions.
When teller’s checks and agent checks aren’t cashed, the Dallas-based MoneyGram sends the abandoned funds to Delaware, the state where MoneyGram is incorporated. But other states pointed to a federal law about abandoned money orders, traveler’s checks and “similar written instruments.” The law says that when those go uncashed, the funds from them go back to the state where they were purchased.
The states argued that MoneyGram's teller’s checks and agent checks counted as “money orders” or “similar written instruments” and that they were due money.
In ruling against Delaware, Jackson noted that teller's checks and agent checks operate “like a money order” and that the unclaimed funds were being sent back “inequitably" solely to Delaware.
In a statement Brenda Mayrack, the director of Delaware's Office of Unclaimed property, said the state is “disappointed in the ruling.”
The case now returns to a federal judge the court has appointed to oversee the dispute, a “special master,” for additional proceedings.
Jackson wrote her first dissenting opinion in November, in support of a death row inmate from Ohio who failed to win Supreme Court review of his case.
Lawyers for the inmate, Davel Chinn, argued that the state suppressed evidence that might have altered the outcome of his trial.
Jackson wrote that she would have ordered lower courts to take another look at the case. Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Jackson's opinion.
Associated Press reporter Randall Chase in Dover, Del. contributed to this report.