Supreme Court Justice Gray and the Great Tomato Decision


An Historical Dichotomy for Children

(Look for important words in bold and discussion questions at the end.)

In 1893, America had a very big decision to make.

Vegetables from far away came with a tariff. Tariffs are extra money paid to the government on imported goods.

But one day, Mr. Nix was bringing in tomatoes. He was asked to pay the vegetable tariff.

Was the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

Nobody knew the right answer. Nobody knew if they had to pay extra money for tomatoes.

Mr. Nix was angry. He went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has nine judges, and they solve the biggest problems in America. The man in charge of the Supreme Court was Justice Gray.

Mr. Nix testified that tomatoes are fruits. He used evidence to support his claims in court. Tomatoes have seeds and grow on a vine. Tomatoes are like very large, juicy grapes.

Justice Gray agreed that tomatoes are fruits in a botanical sense. Tomatoes are fruits by biological definition… but NOT by law.

Justice Gray made a counterargument. Vegetables are eaten with dinner, and fruits are eaten with dessert. Tomatoes are eaten with dinner. They are legally classified as vegetables. They are officially known as vegetables in America. Mr. Nix had to pay the extra money. Mr. Nix was sad.

Many scientists thought that Justice Gray was wrong, but he did make some valid arguments. Tomato ice cream DOES sound icky, doesn’t it?

This event was very important in America. It showed everyone that politics transcended nature. Laws did not have to follow obvious empirical classifications.

Today, the tomato is still classified as a vegetable, even after the tariff went away.


What do YOU think?

Was Justice Gray correct?

Or did he distort his argument intentionally with irrelevant information so that the government could collect as much tax as possible on incorrectly classified produce?

How would YOU have solved the case?


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