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Opinion
Noah Feldman

Amazon's Short-Lived Win at Supreme Court

The justices issue a sales-tax ruling with the kind of reasoning that gives lawyers a bad name.
Return this case to sender.

Return this case to sender.

Photographer: Luke Sharett/Bloomberg

The U.S. Supreme Court gave Amazon.com and other direct marketing retailers a victory today with one hand -- then used the other hand to take it back. Formally, in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, the court unanimously reinstated a lawsuit brought by a direct retailer to block a Colorado law requiring them to notify the state about purchases that fall under Colorado’s sales or use tax. That much was a win for the direct shippers. But in a nonbinding message, the court strongly hinted that the appeals court should block the suit on different grounds than it used the first time -- which would give the victory back to Colorado.

I know, I know, this kind of reasoning is what gives lawyers a bad name. Don’t kill the messenger -- at least not before I’ve explained what the heck the court actually did. That’ll take a couple of minutes of your time -- no more, I promise.