CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: But the point is that you could, and the point is that once you can, every time you get somebody who is throwing fish overboard, you can go to him and say: Look, if we prosecute you you're facing 20 years, so why don't you plead to a year, or something like that. It's an extraordinary leverage that the broadest interpretation of this statute would give Federal prosecutors.
Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
(a)Destruction or Removal of Property To Prevent Seizure.- Whoever, before, during, or after any search for or seizure of property by any person authorized to make such search or seizure, knowingly destroys, damages, wastes, disposes of, transfers, or otherwise takes any action, or knowingly attempts to destroy, damage, waste, dispose of, transfer, or otherwise take any action, for the purpose of preventing or impairing the Government's lawful authority to take such property into its custody or control or to continue holding such property under its lawful custody and control, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both. . .
SyllabusJUSTICE GINSBURG, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE BREYER, and JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR, concluded that a "tangible object" within §1519's compass is one used to record or preserve information. Pp. 6- 20.(a) Although dictionary definitions of the words "tangible" and "object" bear consideration in determining the meaning of "tangible object" in §1519, they are not dispositive. Whether a statutory term is unambiguous "is determined [not only] by reference to the language itself, [but also by] the specific context in which that language is used, and the broader context of the statute as a whole." Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U. S. 337, 341. Identical language may convey varying content when used in different statutes, sometimes even in different provisions of the same statute. See, e.g., FAA v. Cooper, 566 U. S. ___, ___. Pp. 7-10.(b) Familiar interpretive guides aid the construction of "tangible object." Though not commanding, §1519's heading-"Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy"-conveys no suggestion that the section prohibits spoliation of any and all physical evidence, however remote from records.Section 1519's position within Title 18, Chapter 73, further signals that §1519 was not intended to serve as a cross-the-board ban on the destruction of physical evidence. Congress placed §1519 at the end of Chapter 73 following immediately after pre-existing specialized provisions expressly aimed at corporate fraud and financial audits.The contemporaneous passage of §1512(c)(1), which prohibits a person from "alter[ing], destroy[ing], mutilat[ing], or conceal[ing] a record, document, or other object . . . with the intent to impair the object's integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding," is also instructive. The Government argues that §1512(c)(1)'s reference to "other object" includes any and every physical object. But if §1519's reference to "tangible object" already included all physical objects, as the Government also contends, then Congress had no reason to enact §1512(c)(1). Section 1519 should not be read to render superfluous an entire provision passed in proximity as part of the same Act. See Marx v. General Revenue Corp., 568 U. S. ___, ___.The words immediately surrounding "tangible object" in §1519- "falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record [or] document"-also cabin the contextual meaning of that term. Applying the canons noscitur a sociis and ejusdem generis, "tangible object," as the last in a list of terms that begins "any record [or] document," is appropriately read to refer, not to any tangible object, but specifically to the subset of tangible objects used to record or preserve information. This moderate interpretation accords with the list of actions §1519 proscribes; the verbs "falsif[y]" and "mak[e] a false entry in" typically take as grammatical objects records, documents, or things used to record or preserve information, such as logbooks or hard drives. See Gustafson v. Alloyd Co., 513 U. S. 561, 575.Use of traditional tools of statutory interpretation to examine markers of congressional intent within the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and §1519 itself thus call for rejection of an aggressive interpretation of "tangible object."Furthermore, the meaning of "record, document, or thing" in a provision of the 1962 Model Penal Code (MPC) that has been interpreted to prohibit tampering with any kind of physical evidence is not a reliable indicator of the meaning Congress assigned to "record, document, or tangible object" in §1519. There are significant differences between the offense described by the MPC provision and the offense created by §1519. Pp. 10-18.(c) Finally, if recourse to traditional tools of statutory construction leaves any doubt about the meaning of "tangible object" in §1519, it would be appropriate to invoke the rule of lenity. Pp. 18-19.JUSTICE ALITO concluded that traditional rules of statutory construction confirm that Yates has the better argument. Title 18 U. S. C. §1519's list of nouns, list of verbs, and title, when combined, tip the case in favor of Yates. Applying the canons noscitur a sociis and ejusdem generis to the list of nouns-"any record, document, or tangible object"-the term "tangible object" should refer to something similar to records or documents. And while many of §1519's verbs- "alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in"-could apply to far-flung nouns such as salamanders or sand dunes, the term "makes a false entry in" makes no sense outside of filekeeping. Finally, §1519's title-"Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy"- also points toward filekeeping rather than fish. Pp. 1-4.GINSBURG, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and BREYER and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. KAGAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SCALIA, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined.