Anna Nicole Smith's Supreme Effort A melodrama makes the Supreme Court's agenda: Actress Anna Nicole Smith's fights for a stake of her late husband's multimillion-dollar estate. Slate legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick fills Alex Chadwick in on the details.
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Anna Nicole Smith's Supreme Effort

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Anna Nicole Smith's Supreme Effort


Anna Nicole Smith's Supreme Effort

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This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up: former Playmate Anna Nicole Smith gets her day in court, and it's the U.S. Supreme Court. Dahlia Lithwick saw all. She joins us, as she does every Tuesday. Dahlia, welcome back, and first, there is an abortion ruling from the court this morning. This is a case about protestors and abortion clinics. What happened?

Ms. DAHLIA Ms. LITHWICK (Legal Analyst, Slate Magazine): That's right, Alex. The Supreme Court finally put to rest a decade's old dispute over whether anti-abortion protestors can actually be prosecuted. This was a novel theory, prosecuted under federal racketeering law, and this case has been bouncing around for decades. In an 8-0 decision, with Justice Sam Alito not participating, the Supreme Court said that protests, abortion protests, even those including threats of violence, are simply not what was contemplated by the federal racketeering statutes.

CHADWICK: All right. We'll leave that decision aside, and now, onto Anna Nicole Smith. Here's the lead from the Associated Press today, written by Gina Holland, quote, “Dressed in all black, former stripper turned weight loss promoter Anna Nicole Smith fought her way through a throng of photographers and autograph-seekers Tuesday, on her way to a Supreme Court showdown.” Geez, you don't get much better than that, Dahlia.

Ms. LITHWICK: It's such a wonderful clash of two worlds, Alex. On the one hand, you have this sort of larger-than-life soap opera character that is Anna Nicole Smith, and the whole soap opera that is her whole life, coming against this sort of very grey, pedestrian legal world of the Supreme Court. You really couldn't ask for a better juxtaposition of two totally different universes.

CHADWICK: Okay. Well, there is a case here, and it's something about her late husband's estate. How does this get to the Supreme Court?

Ms. LITHWICK: It's a little bit complicated facts, but imagine you're on Guiding Light. Anna Nicole Smith was a 26 year old stripper. She married a Texas oil tycoon who was 89. He died 14 months later, and then, essentially, we've had four courts in ten years of infighting between Anna Nicole Smith and her deceased husband's heir, trying to determine whether or not she should inherit half of his estate, which we're talking about millions and millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars.

There was one action in a Texas State probate court that essentially looked at his will, and found that she had been cut off. There was another action in a federal court, a California bankruptcy court, that said quite the opposite, that in fact, her late husband had intended to gift her $449 million, and that through acts of fraud, the heir had kept that money from her, so we essentially have a states' rights case, where we have the State of Texas saying, we get to decide this matter, and we have the federal government, in the person of the California Bankruptcy Court, saying, no, we get to decide this matter, and the Supreme Court stepped in to make a decision.

CHADWICK: You know, you make it sound more like the Young and the Rustlers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: Any sense, from what was going on, on how the court might go?

Ms. LITHWICK: An interesting morning, Alex. The court was really very, very hard on E. Pierce Marshall--that is the heir of Anna Nicole's late husband, I guess, her son by some stretch, even though he's much older than her--very hard on his attorney. He kept saying over and over again that no, this is the jurisdiction of the Texas courts. This is a state law matter. There is no place for federal laws, certainly no place for a federal bankruptcy judge to come in and upset the apple cart.

The justices did not seem persuaded, and most notably, her knight gallant today was Justice Stephen Brier, who was very, very offended by what he saw as the shenanigans of her deceased husband's heir, and the ways he kept her from inheriting, and he really did seem to think very, very clearly that Anna Nicole was mistreated, and that she deserves to have a little bit of respect from the judiciary.

CHADWICK: Dahlia, did you think that the justices saw this as, in its kind of broad, almost comic social context?

Ms. LITHWICK: No. One of the great beauties of the Supreme Court, I think, is its ability to take even the most larger-than-life technicolor psychodrama, and flatten it out into black and white, arid, dusty issues, and today, where everyone else in this country saw a flamboyant, busty blonde fighting for her day in court, the Supreme Court managed to completely vacuum out all of that social meaning, and turn it into a dry, probate matter.

CHADWICK: Opinion and analysis from Dahlia Lithwick, covering the courts in all their color for the online magazine Slate, and for DAY TO DAY. Dahlia, thank you again.

Ms. LITHWICK: Always a pleasure.

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