The "Spiderman" float is seen during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Times Square in New York on Nov. 24, 2011.
Photo by Andrew Burton/AP

Supreme Court ruling spins ‘web’ of Spider-Man references

Updated

There was no word Monday from the Supreme Court on the most hotly anticipated cases concerning the fate of the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage. There was, however, word from the court on the fate of Spider Man.

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Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment is a patent case, not easily understandable to people outside the field. But Stephen Kimble’s dispute with Marvel, in which he argued he deserved royalties after his patent expired, happened to involve a Spider-Man toy. (It shoots “webs,” silly-string style.) Here are the ways Kagan wove the comic book hero into her legal reasoning. 

  • “Patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time.”
  • “As against this super-powered form of stare decisis, we would need a superspecial justification to warrant reversing Brulotte.
  • “Indeed, Brulotte’s close relation to a whole web of precedents means that overruling it could threaten others. Second, nothing about Brulotte has proved unworkable.”
  • “What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “SpiderMan,” p. 13 (1962) (“[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility”).”

Marvel won, by the way. 

As the junior justice on the Supreme Court, Justice Elena Kagan probably gets more than her share of dry opinions, but in her hands, a highly technical case is a chance for comedic gold. In February, she cited Dr. Seuss in a case involving fish and interpretation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Kagan wrote in her dissent, “As the plurality must acknowledge, the ordinary meaning of ‘tangible object’ is ‘a discrete thing that possesses physical form.’ A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form. See generally Dr. Seuss, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960).” 

Pop Culture and Supreme Court

Supreme Court ruling spins 'web' of Spider-Man references

Updated