Bitcoin Makes First Appearance in US Supreme Court Opinion

Bitcoin made an appearance in the United States Supreme Court today. For the first time in history, the world’s largest cryptocurrency was mentioned in an opinion published by the US Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court was referring to the case of Wisconsin Central Ltd. vs. United States. The case is unrelated to bitcoin’s regulatory or legal status. Instead, the case explored whether employee stock options represented taxable compensation under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act of 1937.8

How exactly did bitcoin enter into a discussion on employee stock options? Well, justices in both the majority and dissenting opinions faced a fundamental question related to bitcoin. Namely, what is money?

The 5-4 majority ruled that employees should not be taxed for exercising stock options since the action does not constitute “money remuneration”, as reported by CCN.com. However, dissenting justice Stephen Breyer argued for a “broader understanding of money”. Breyer believes stock options should be classified as taxable compensation, and he cited bitcoin as one reason for that opinion.

“…What we view as money has changed over time,” explained Breyer in his opinion.

“Cowrie shells once were such a medium but no longer are…our currency originally included gold coins and bullion, but, after 1934, gold could not be used as a medium of exchange…perhaps one day employees will be paid in bitcoin or some other type of cryptocurrency…nothing in the statute suggests the meaning of this provision should be trapped in a monetary time warp, forever limited to those forms of money commonly used in the 1930s.”

Breyer cited pages 275 to 275 of “The Unauthorized Biography – From Coinage to Cryptocurrencies” in his report. Essentially, Breyer was arguing that the meaning of money is fluid. It changes over time. We once used gold coins as money. One day, we might use bitcoin as money. Why should the meaning of money be constrained to a time-centric concept like the US Dollar?

In any case, Breyer’s statement marks the first time the word “bitcoin” has been included in a Supreme Court opinion.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan were also on the dissenting side.

This may have been the first time bitcoin was referenced in a Supreme Court opinion. However, it’s unlikely to be the last.

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