Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan channeled 1980s MTV favorite Tommy Tutone in her majority decision on Thursday in a case about trucking. And if someone has the number she mentioned, it would be latest chapter of the Tutone legend.
The band’s big hit was the video staple, the 1982 hit “867-5309/Jenny.” In the second page of her opinion in the case of American Trucking Association v. City of Los Angeles, Kagan dropped the phone number into the court’s reasoning in the case.
Kagan was describing cargo transportation requirements in Los Angeles.
“The two directly at issue here compel the company to (1) affix a placard on each truck with a phone number for reporting environmental or safety concerns (You’ve seen the type: “How am I driving? 213–867–5309”),” she said.
Our friends at SCOTUSblog quickly picked up on the Tutone reference on their live blog.
If someone actually owns that phone number (the area code is in the Los Angeles area), it won’t be the first time someone calls it looking for “Jenny.”
The urban myth website Snopes has a detailed history of people who inherited the 867-5309 phone number in different exchanges, and it’s not a pretty picture. Since the 1980s, people who were assigned the number in their area codes had more than a few calls and phone messages.
Back in 1982, People magazine profiled the people who were met with a new wave of phone calls when fans started dialing up their number.
“It’s no coincidence 867-5309 is no longer a working number in 97 of the 106 area code zones in the U.S. Though no lawsuits have come to court because of Tommy Tutone’s 867-5309/Jenny, many who once had that number seem to have at least considered dialing M for murder,” the magazine said.
Other people have turned the annoyance of receiving the Tutone phone number into a profit-making-venture. Variations of the phone number have surfaced for sale on eBay, in connection with businesses linked to the phone number.
And it was the subject of litigation between two plumbing companies.
Gem Plumbing and Benjamin Franklin Plumbing had both used the number in advertising campaigns, and the issue was subject to patent litigation. (Currently, if you call the number, it goes to Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.)
Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.
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