Monday, June 6, 2016

How To Tax A Tomato

Many of my books deal with (let's call them) nuances of the American legal system, to which I was first introduced as a kid decades ago, trailing my father, grandfather, and uncle to various courtrooms, mostly in Baltimore City.

When I began law school, one of the first cases we were assigned to read was Marbury v. Madison, a cornerstone of constitutional law. However, a case that might better prepare first year law students and non-lawyers to deal with the U.S. legal system is one that I just read, three decades after being assigned Marbury.

Nix, et al. v. Hadden, also a U.S. Supreme Court case, was decided in 1893, and as recently as 2015 was cited in Supreme Court decisions as solid precedent.

A tariff case, Nix holds that tomatoes are vegetables. This may not seem especially important, except for the very scientific fact that tomatoes are actually a fruit, due to the botanic classification that they are "that part of a plaint which contains the seeds of the plant, especially the juicy, pulpy product of the plant, which covers and contains the seed."

So how did the Nix case so flatly deny science? By making vegetables a tax matter.

At the time the case was decided, the U.S. imposed a tariff on imported vegetables, but not on imported fruit. Alas, as it was in the best interests of governmental revenue that tomatoes be a vegetable, the Supreme Court deftly performed legal gymnastics and ruled that vegetables shouldn't be defined by botany, but by when we consume them.

Vegetables, the court found, are eaten as a part of a meal, while fruits are eaten for desert.

Perhaps if there had been hipster ice creameries serving sun-dried tomato gelato in the late 1800's, tomatoes could have better argued their scientific standing as a fruit. Alas, that was not the case, and science was hustled out of the courtroom for what would not be the last time.


Preston Pairo's latest novel, One Dead Judge, a saga from Ocean City, is available exclusively at

Now on Amazon: One Dead Judge

Ah, summer.  Dallas Henry's favorite time of year—except for this week when the State Bar Association holds its annual convention in Dallas' beach town, and hundreds of his former legal brethren arrive like a red tide of litigating menace.

Dallas has been giving away free rooms at his one-star motel to keep any lawyers from checking in, but suddenly he has bigger problems.

Cranky Judge Crenshaw calls Dallas in the middle of the night and claims someone's trying to kill him, but won't say who he thinks it might be, or why.  Convinced the judge is pulling another of his infamous practical jokes, Dallas plays along, only the next day Crenshaw turns up dead and doughy prosecutor Brent Bannister claims Dallas' car was the murder weapon.

Then Dallas' old law school girlfriend shows up, followed by a TV advertising lawyer with bad hair plugs, a felon with bad aim, a bag of steamed crabs, someone digging holes in the judge's back yard, piles of deer pooh, the dead judge's reclusive ex-partner, a former courthouse worker who gets three pension checks, a real estate tycoon hell bent on building a new golf course, and a convention center full of lawyers who want to make Dallas "Attorney of The Year" for running over Judge Crenshaw.

Dallas' helpers, meanwhile, aren't helping.  Francophile Herbie's massive origami creation is taking over the motel's front desk.  Misdemeanant Dash is stealing limos from foreign diplomats.  And Susan still isn't the love of Dallas' life.

Who would have thought one dead judge could cause such a commotion?  A satiric whodunit from the sunny beaches of Ocean City, Maryland, One Dead Judge is now available exclusively as an eBook at