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Oral argument in the whistleblower case of Allison Engine Company v. United States took a strange twist Tuesday when Supreme Court justices, at least temporarily, seemed convinced that crucial facts of the case were not quite what they had appeared. After seemingly new information emerged, an exasperated Justice Antonin Scalia said to one of the lawyers, “I wish you had said that in your brief, because we could have saved ourselves a lot of reading.”

The case is a test of the False Claims Act, which rewards whistleblowers who report when the U.S. government is being defrauded by those who do business with it. At issue is whether the law only covers those cases in which a fraudulent bill is presented directly to the government — or, alternatively, it could also cover subcontractor situations in which government funds may be misspent, but the actual fraudulent bill is presented not to the government directly but to a company or other institution, like a hospital, that receives federal funds.

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