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Monthly Archives: March 2008

Supremes start week with orders, a decision and a hold

There are no oral arguments this week, but it was a busy morning at the Supreme Court just the same.

Today the Court ruled that New Jersey could bring a lawsuit against its neighbor, Delaware, directly in the Supreme Court. The suit involves a dispute over Delaware’s plan to build a docking station for natural gas tankers along the Delaware River, which serves as a border between the two states. (New Jersey v. Delaware, No. 134-Orig.) SCOTUSBlog has the opinion here. (PDF file)

The Court granted two certs, agreeing to consider whether private citizens can erect religious displays in public parks in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (No. 07-665).

It also agreed to consider whether a ban on payroll deductions for political activities is unconstitutional in Yusursa v. Pocatello (No. 07-869).

The Court also refused to step into a legal fight between the Justice Department and a member of Congress who has been indicted on bribery charges.

Meanwhile, Justice Anthony Kennedy put a hold on a federal court’s decision ordering the release on parole of Fred McCullough, who was convicted of second-degree murder in Los Angeles in 1983, a move that drew praise from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Monday status conference: Cherry blossom edition

Good morning. Just as the cherry blossoms are being celebrated here this week, Congress returns from its two-week recess. The Supreme Court could issue some orders today, although no oral arguments are scheduled for the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile:

The U.S. News & World Report law school rankings are officially released today. (Fox Business)

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to meet with House Republican leaders Tuesday to discuss the U.S. economy and housing market problems. (Reuters).

Democrats are urging President Bush to endorse their housing assistance proposal, which would let bankruptcy judges lower payments for homeowners staring at foreclosure. (AP)

Meanwhile some Republicans are stuck between constituents demanding protection from foreclosure and party leaders urging restraint. (NYT)

The Bush administration is proposing a sweeping overhaul of the way the government regulates the nation’s financial services industry from banks and securities firms to mortgage brokers and insurance companies. (AP)

Attorney General Michael Mukasey talked tough on intellectual property crime, saying the theft of inventions poses a threat to the nation’s “health and safety” and fosters terrorism. (Wired News)

President Bush threw the ceremonial first pitch in the new Nationals Park, to cheers and boos. (AP)

Edwards donors, many of them lawyers, favor Obama over Clinton

Remember when DC Dicta asked who the donors of former presidential candidate John Edwards would turn to after Edwards’ departure from the race?

Well CQ Politics has the answer: Sen. Barack Obama.

Backers of Edwards, who had strong support from trial attorneys, have turned to Obama by a 2-to-1 margin over Sen. Hillary Clinton, according to the report.

Obama pulled in $200,000 from Edwards donors who had not previously given to Obama last month. Clinton pulled in $114,000 in first-time donations from Edwards contributors last month.

Of course these numbers represent only a drop in the bucket for these candidates: Obama took in $56 million overall last month, as Clinton pulled in a personal best $35 million. But in a tight race as this one, every dollar counts.

Said one lawyer and former Edwards backer: “I looked at both the candidates and basically the reason I chose to shift allegiance over to Obama was how I perceived his message of hope.”

Friday morning docket: Pay ball!

Next week Congress returns from a two week homestand. Today, justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will conference privately, and may release some orders (we’ll keep you posted). Meanwhile Sunday is inauguration night – for the Washington Nationals, who play their first game in their shiny new stadium.

Other news inside the Beltway:

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in a case considering whether defendants deemed mentally competent enough to stand trial should also be deemed competent enough to represent themselves. (WaPo)

Justice Antonin Scalia thinks the media – including The New York Times - get it wrong. (AP).

The first official estimate of the total number of convicts eligible for deportation indicates it would cost at least $2 billion a year to find and deport all of them. (NYT)

The chief and several staffers from the EPA planned a tao-week trip to Australia – and members of Congress are not too happy about that. (AP)

Maryland Congressman Albert Wynn, who lost a primary reelection bid last month, will step down before his term ends to go back to practicing law. He’ll leave congress in June to become a partner at Washington firm Dickstein Shapiro. (AP via CBS News)

Senator Christopher Dodd said the banking committee he chairs will hold a public hearing into the controversial takeover of troubled investment bank Bear Stearns Thursday. (AFP)

Meanwhile the Federal Reserve said it would hold public meetings next month on the offer by Bank of America to acquire Countrywide Financial. (NYT)

Answering critics who say politics interferes with Justice Department investigations and prosecutions, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said Thursday that the department will crack down on crooked politicians and public officials. “The investigation and prosecution of public corruption [is] among the highest obligations of law enforcement, and it should come as no surprise that I consider it to be one of the top priorities of the Department of Justice,” Mukasey said. (AP)

Breyer finds his funny bone

Oral arguments have concluded for yet another month, so it’s time again to consult the transcripts to find out who, so far this term, is the funniest justice.

Those who have been keeping track know the answer to this already, since Justice Antonin Scalia has had a dramatic lead in this category all term, pulling in more laughs so far than the next three funniest justices combined.

But Justice Stephen Breyer seems to hit his comic stride, garnering just as many laughs as Scalia in the month of March, and passing surprisingly-funny Justice David Souter in the rankings to pull into a second-place tie with Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

Here’s the tally so far this term:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 56
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.: 17
Justice Stephen Breyer: 17
Justice David Souter: 16
Justice Anthony Kennedy: 9
Justice John Paul Stevens: 7
Justice Samuel Alito, Jr.: 4
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 3
Justice Clarence Thomas (silent as always during arguments): 0

Greenhouse goes to Yale

It’s been a good week for Yale Law School.

First, it landed at the top (again) of what purports to be the rankings of the nation’s top law schools by U.S. News & World Report.

Now, the school has announced that the New York Times’ loss will be their gain: starting in January, the retiring Times Supreme Court uber-reporter Linda Greenhouse will be a Knight Distinguished Journalist-in-Residence and Joseph M. Goldstein Senior Fellow at the school.

Said Dean Harold Hongju Koh of Greenhouse, who holds a Master of Studies in Law degree from the school: “We are thrilled to welcome Linda Greenhouse back home to Yale Law School. . . . She has the rarest gift for distilling even the most complex Court decisions and doctrines into language that all readers can understand. And her knowledge of the Court is matched only by her passion for accurate reporting and her fervent commitment to promoting justice through law.” (See the full announcement here on Poyner.org)

Greenhouse recently accepted a buyout package from the Times, where she has covered the Court for 30 years. (HT: Romenesko)

(Photo by Charles Haynes, c/o the Wikimedia Project)

U.S. News law school rankings leaked!

BREAKING: A document that purportedly shows the 2009 U.S. News & World Report law school rankings has leaked!

Ok, so it’s perhaps not all that exciting. But the folks at Above The Law have a PDF of the leaked document, so to see where your alma mater (allegedly) falls, click here.

Shockingly (not!), Yale tops the list, giving us a reason to show a picture of one if the cool figures on its law school building. It is followed by Harvard and Stanford (tied at second), Columbia and NYU.

(DC Dicta’s alma mater is holding at a respectable #20 for a second year in a row. I misspoke – DC Dicta’s alma mater dropped one spot from last year to #21. Still, go Terriers!)

Begging Bush’s pardon

President George W. Bush granted 15 pardons yesterday, bringing the total reprieves issued during his two terms to 157.

Unless he goes on a pardon-granting spree in the last few months of his administration, he is on track to grant roughly half the number of pardons granted during the Reagan or Clinton administrations.

For a list of those who were pardoned by the president, click here.

Begging Bush’s pardon

President George W. Bush granted 15 pardons yesterday, bringing the total reprieves issued during his two terms to 157.

Unless he goes on a pardon-granting spree in the last few months of his administration, he is on track to grant roughly half the number of pardons granted during the Reagan or Clinton administrations.

For a list of those who were pardoned by the president, click here.

Mukasey’s high court argument

Justice Antonin Scalia is not one to go easy on the lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court – even when said lawyer heads the Justice Department.

When Attorney General Michael Mukasey stood at the podium today urging the Court to hold that, under a statute boosting the penalty for a felony when the perpetrator carries explosives, the explosive need not involve the underlying felony, Scalia did not disguise his skepticism.

“General,” Scalia said, addressing a sitting attorney general arguing in the Court for the first time in 12 years, “could Congress pass a law that said if you wear a wristwatch during the commission of any crime, you get another 10 years?”

Mukasey paused, and then answered: “A statute like that would be entirely unreasonable. It was not entirely unreasonable for Congress to have said if you carry an explosive during the commission of a felony, you’ve added something enormously volatile.”

“Surely it depends on what the felony is,” Scalia said. “If the felony is the filing of a dishonest tax return and you have a can of gasoline with you when you mail the letter, it seems to me quite as absurd as saying wearing a wristwatch in the course of a felony. That’s what troubles me about this.”

Scalia pointed out that carrying explosives in itself could be a wholly legal activity, but add a felony like tax evasion, and it could earn a defendant an extra decade in prison.

“I guess [‘explosives'] would include having some cartridges, explosive cartridges?” Scalia asked

“It would,” Mukasey replied.

“That’s perfectly lawful, and you get another 10 years for it just because you’re mailing a letter to the IRS at the same time?” Scalia pressed.

“It is perfectly lawful,” Mukasey repeated, adding later: “We concede that it was a very broad statute. But that was Congress’s choice. And if Congress chooses to amend the statute, respectfully, it ought to be Congress that amends it.”

Mukasey told reporters earlier in the week that he jumped at the chance to argue before the Court, something no sitting attorney general has done since Janet Reno in 1996.

But the novelty perhaps wore off quickly today for Mukasey who, midway through his alloted time, asked the justices if they had more questions and then took a seat, using only 16 minutes of his half-hour allotment.

The case was U.S. v. Ressam, involving the so-called “millenium bomber.”

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