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Friday morning docket: All eyes on SCOTUS pick

With the prospect of lawmakers coming to a consensus on the health care bill all but dead, next week the hottest item on the legislative agenda will be confirming Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The Senate is set to take up her nomination on Tuesday, but expect many, many senators to speak on the nominee, so there is no telling just when the actual vote will take place.

In other news to wrap up this work week:

Raising the red flag: With the American Bar Association threatening to sue to exempt lawyers from new identity theft rules set to go into effect this week, the Federal Trade Commission has delayed the rules for 90 days and issued guidance to help lawyers and other businesses better understand the requirements. (Lawyers USA)

Tax break speed bump: Legislation filed earlier this year that would amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow attorneys to deduct certain expenses and costs in contingency fee cases up front is stalled in Congress – and won’t move unless it can be attached to a bigger tax bill. (Lawyers USA)

GOP ‘yea’:Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, has announced he will vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. (AP)

Rove-ing report: Remember when all those U.S. attorneys got fired a few years ago, and the ensuing political brouhaha that ultimately led to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ resignation? Well Karl Rove had a little more to do with all that than previously reported. (WaPo)

Rove-ing response: Rove himself says his role in the whole thing was very small. (NYT)

Not wild for Gonzo: Speaking of Gonzales, he’s excited about his new teaching gig at Texas Tech University. The dozens of professors who signed a petition seeking protesting his presence on campus? Not so much. (WSJ’s Law Blog)

Solons SCOTUS squabble gets racial

While the president prepares to hold a “beer summit” today at the White House to cool racial tensions, perhaps the members of the Senate could use the same thing across town on Capitol Hill.

That’s because the verbal partisan battle over sure-to-be confirmed Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has turned racial.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged his Republican colleagues not to vote against Sotomayor next week. Opposing the first Latina justice, he said, could open GOP lawmakers up to the same backlash they felt after the long and bitter battle over immigration reform.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the head of his party’s Senate campaign committee and Senate Judiciary Committee member who voted ‘nay’ on the nominee, did not like Reid’s comment one bit.

In fact, he accused the Democrats of “giving cover to groups and individuals to nurture racial grievances for political advantage.”

“I don’t think it influences people’s votes, but what it does encourage is a very poisonous – indeed a very toxic – tone of destructive politics,” Cornyn told The Associated Press. “They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Brent Wilkes of the League of United Latin American Citizens, who has launched campaigns pushing lawmakers to support the candidate, said that it was Cornyn, not Reid, who was playing the race card.

“It appears to me that they’re deciding to play racial politics,” Wilkes said, adding that opposing Sotomayor would be “a big mistake” for their reelection campaigns. “They will feel the heat from our community.”

The verbal exchange highlights the growing difficulty Democrats are having trying to garner some GOP support for the president’s first Supreme Court pick. That job became even harder last week when the National Rifle Association took the unusual move of announcing that voting for the nominee would affect lawmakers’ rankings come election time. The group has called Sotomayor’s Second Amendment stance “hostile” to gun owners.

White House blasts GOP ‘nays’ on Sotomayor

Yesterday White House press secretary Robert Gibbs criticized Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans who voted against President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, saying they were playing politics.

During the confirmation hearings for nominee Sonia Sotomayor, and again before yesterday’s committee vote, some GOP members pointed out that Obama, as a senator, voted against confirming Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito, Jr., despite saying they were qualified. Gibbs said that was no reason to vote against Obama’s pick.

“The sense that you’re gonna make a vote on the Supreme Court based on how somebody voted in 2005. … that’s certainly one circuitous way to look at it,” Gibbs told reporters in his office yesterday, according to a report by Politico.

Gibbs also noted that for some senior Republicans on the committee, it was the first time they voted no. For example, yesterday marked Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley’s first “no” vote on a Supreme Court confirmation in his 29 years in the Senate.

Some committee Republicans “”have had a chance to vote on now eight, nine, 10, 11 Supreme Court nominees and in some cases this is the first time they’re voting against one,” Gibbs said.

Senate Judiciary Committee approves Sotomayor

As expected, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 to send the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to the full Senate, clearing the way for the Court’s first Latina justice to be confirmed as early as next week.

All Democrats on the committee voted in favor of Sotomayor, joining just one Republican – Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. – in supporting her.

More on the vote here from Lawyers USA.

The suspense-free Sotomayor vote

When the Senate Judiciary Committee convenes this morning to vote on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, there won’t be a bit of surprise in the outcome: they will advance Sotomayor’s nomination by – unless something completely wacky happens – a 13-6 vote.

The non-nail biter comes courtesy of Sotomayor’s solid among Democrats, and the advance announcements by all but one Republican member that they will vote ‘nay.’

Yesterday Sens. Chuck Grassley and Tom Coburn chimed in with the completely unsurprising new that they’ll oppose the nominee, leaving fellow member Sen. Lindsay Graham as the lone Republican to cast a ‘yea’ vote.

The committee convenes at 10 a.m.  A vote before the full Senate is likely to come next week.

Monday status conference: Opposition and arbitration

Tomorrow, when the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on the Supreme Court nomination of Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor, at least four Republicans will oppose her.

Today Sen. Jeff Sessions, the committee’s top GOP member, announced his intention to vote ‘no’ on the high court hopeful in a column in USA Today. Last week, Sens. Jon Kyl, John Cornyn and Orrin Hatch all announced their intention to oppose President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, while fellow Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham said he would support Sotomayor. But the ‘no’ votes are not expected to affect her chances of approval by the committee nor the full Senate, where she has the solid support of Democrats.

Meanwhile, the shaky state of mandatory pre-dispute binding arbitration has gotten even shakier after JP Morgan Chase announced that it would stop filing mandatory arbitration claims against its credit card customers. The move came after the nation’s two largest arbitration firms stopped taking consumer debt cases. Meanwhile lawmakers are trying to restart stalled legislation seeking to ban such agreements, and lawsuits continue to mount over the issue – including one launched by Minnesota’s attorney general.

But wait, there’s more!

New age bias rulings to come? The EEOC considers new regulations after two Supreme Court age bias rulings. (Lawyers USA)

Med mal-aise? The total number of medical malpractice lawsuit payments made in 2008 fell to a record low, according to a recent report from Public Citizen. (Lawyers USA)

Post-retirement plans: Retired Justice David Souter will give the keynote speech Saturday at the American Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in Chicago. (ABAnet.org)

Healthy employment: The health care bill proposed by House Democrats would result in a net increase of 3 million people insured through their employers, a congressional report found. (NYT)

Cornyn, Hatch to vote ‘no’ on Sotomayor

Today two more Senate Republicans announced their intention to vote against Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor when lawmakers take up her nomination next week.

Sen. John Cornyn said he came to his decision to oppose the 2nd Circuit judge “with regret and some sadness.”

“Voting to confirm a judge – this judge or any judge – despite doubts would certainly be the politically expedient thing to do, but I don’t believe it would be the right thing to do,” said Cornyn.

Acknowledging that Sotomayor, who has the solid backing of senate Democrats and a handful of Senate Republicans including Sen. Lindsay Graham, will be easily confirmed, and said that he wished her well on the bench. “I know she will be an inspiration to many young people in the Hispanic community and beyond,” he said.

Earlier today, fellow Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch said he too would vote against the nominee. Sotomayor’s “statements and record were too much at odds with the principles about the judiciary in which I deeply believe,” Hatch said. But, he added in his statement: “The prospect of a woman of Puerto Rican heritage serving on the Supreme Court brought great excitement to me and says a lot about America.”

GOP lawmakers opposing Sotomayor’s confirmation have faced criticism from some groups and critics who say the nominee is qualified, and that Congress should embrace the prospect of putting the first Latina justice on the Court.

Friday morning docket: Health care and high court

It’s been a busy week in Washington, as the White House and members of Congress have immersed themselves in the debate over revamping the nation’s health case system, not to mention confirming the president’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But President Obama won’t get his wish of having health care legislation passed before lawmakers break for summer recess – the best he can hope for now is for the debate to resume in the fall. Perhaps he can take some solace in the fact that not all Republican senators are opposing his SCOTUS pick, 2nd Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Next week the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its vote on Sotomayor, which could be followed in a matter of days by a full Senate vote.


Arbitration turmoil: Hundreds of thousands of arbitration awards have been thrown into jeopardy after the National Arbitration Forum and the American Arbitration Association announced they would stop debt collection arbitrations. (Lawyers USA)

Pleading for change: This week Sen. Arlen Specter filed a bill that would reverse Supreme Court rulings in Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, which toughened pleading standards for plaintiffs in civil claims. (The VLW Blog)

States jump after SCOTUS rule: Virginia will convene its legislature for a rare summer session next month to pass legislation to conform to the recent Supreme Court ruling in Melendez-Diaz v. Mass., requiring crime lab analysts to be available to testify at criminal trials. Officials in other states including Massachusetts – where the case originated – are pondering similar action of prevent pending criminal cases from being delayed or dismissed. (WaPo, State House News Service [Boston])

Health care bill’s bells and whistleblowers? Might the health care bill, whenever it’s finished, contain a provision that widens the scope of Medicare-relate qui tam whistleblower lawsuits? (Forbes.com)

Kyl to vote ‘no,’ Graham to vote ‘yes’ on Sotomayor

If you got the impression during the confirmation hearings that Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl wasn’t really a fan of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, you were on the right track.

Kyl announced on the Senate floor that he will vote against President Obama’s choice to fill retired Justice David Souter’s seat on the nation’s highest court.

Kyl, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, said he was displeased by Sotomayor’s “evasive” answers during the confirmation hearings, her opinions on issues like the Second Amendment and employment bias claims, and her statements including her infamous “wise Latina” comment.

“I’ve looked at judge Sotomayor’s cases [and] have cause for concern,” Kyl said just minutes ago, adding: “I’ve not been persuaded that Judge Sotomayor is committed to setting aside her biases and [judging] based on the rule of law.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, who was also one of Sotomayor’s toughest questioners during the hearings, said he will vote for Sotomayor.

“I understand the path of least resistance for me would be to vote no – that’s probably true anytime you’re in a minority party and you lost the election. But I feel compelled to vote ‘yes,'” Graham said on the floor moments ago. “I feel this is the right vote for me and right vote for the country in this case.”

Graham said he believes that Sotomayor is “well qualified,” and that President Obama has the right to pick the qualified candidate of his choice.

“Elections have consequences,” he said.  “That [the president could pick justices] was known to the American people and the American people spoke. [Obama] deserves some deference on my part when it comes to his first choice for the Supreme Court.”

He also criticized Obama for voting against Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito during their confirmations after noting that they were qualified.

Fellow Republican and Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, speaking earlier, announced that he would vote against Sotomayor.

AAA gets out of consumer debt biz

On the heels of the National Arbitration Forum’s decision to stop arbitrating consumer debt-collection cases, the American Arbitration Association announced yesterday it too was getting out of the consumer debt business.

The NAF made the move after Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson sued the agency for concealing its ties to debt collection agencies and working on the side of creditors against the interest of consumers.

Swanson is expected to testify today at a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on the use of arbitration in debt collection.

The move by the two major arbitration firms leaves the consumer debt-collection system, which has come under fire, in more disarray The Wall Street Journal reports. AAA officials said they will stop conducting such arbitrations until new rules are established governing them.