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Monthly Archives: August 2009

Sotomayor’s first vote a capital case

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has taken her first vote in her new job, joining a split minority of justices who sought to delay the execution of an Ohio death row inmate.

Yesterday the Court rejected by a 5-4 vote a bid by Jason Getsy to delay his execution, scheduled for today. Getsy, convicted of a 1995 shooting death, argued that the state’s lethal injection method constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court ruled on another death penalty case yesterday, ordering that an evidentiary hearing be held for Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis to examine evidence his lawyer says shows he was wrongly convicted for the death of a police officer. Sotomayor did not participate in that ruling.

Yesterday Sotomayor also got her Circuit assignment. She will be in charge of appeals coming from the 10th Circuit.

Monday status conference: Working vacations

So much for a lazy August!

Even though Washington lawmakers and President Obama are away from the capital this week, it may not feel like much of a vacation for them thanks to the ongoing health care reform debate.

Lawmakers continue to spend parts of their summer recess at town hall meetings getting an earful from constituents, while Obama too is spending his vacation talking health care in between visits with his family to Yellowstone National Park and Martha’s Vineyard.

But the legal news from Washington continues:

Another arbitration defection: Bank of America is the latest credit card company to allow customers to file suit instead of requiring that they submit to binding arbitration for their claims. (Lawyers USA)

An Armey of protest? Former Majority Leader Dick Armey has resigned from DLA Piper amid firestorm over his connection to a conservative group which has been linked to disruptive protests at town hall meetings on health care reform. (The BLT)

A louder whistle: Before breaking for recess, a Senate committee has advanced a bill that would give broader whistleblower protection to federal employees. (Lawyers USA)

Iqbal in your court: The Supreme Court ruling toughening civil pleading standards in federal courts is of particular concern to plaintiff side employment attorneys. (Lawyers USA)

Woman of many hats: Cowgirl, romance coach, rock star, children’s book author – oh, and a retired Supreme Court justice: the many faces of Sandra Day O’Connor. (Arizona Republic)

Sotomayor celebration: The newest Supreme was feted at the White House last week. (AP)

Miers calls Rove “agitated” agitator in U.S. attorney firings

Drama! Just when you think there couldn’t possibly be more to the U.S. attorney firing scandal from the last administration, The Washington Post comes out with new details today.

Former White House counsel Harriet Miers told members of a House committee that former advisor Karl Rove was not happy with the job former U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias was doing investigating key Democratic lawmakers who were in hotly contested elections against GOP challengers. Miers said Rove was “agitated” by the slow progression of the corruption cases, and told her in 2006 that Iglesias as a “serious problem” and said he wanted “something done” about it, the Post reports. The conversation came months before Iglesias was let go, Miers told lawmakers. He was one of nine U.S. attorneys fired under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and house lawmakers have been investigating whether the dismissals were politically motivated.

Miers comments come from transcripts of testimony she gave to the House Judiciary Committee. She did not comment for the Post story, but Rove did, saying he “never sought to influence the conduct of any prosecution” and accusing Democrats of making “false accusations and partisan innuendoes.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman saw it differently. “Under the Bush regime, honest and well-performing U.S. attorneys were fired for petty patronage, political horse-trading, and, in the most egregious case of political abuse of the U.S. attorney corps — that of U.S. attorney Iglesias — because he refused to use his office to help Republicans win elections,” Conyers said Tuesday.

More here from the Post.

The information comes from hundreds of documents released by the Judiciary Committee Tuesday. More here from Reuters.

O’Connor’s still Her Honor

Many retirees are still clocking some post-retirement time in the office, and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is no exception.

“It’s nice to keep your hand in a bit,” O’Connor told The Wall Street Journal, while sitting in the chambers she still keeps at the Supreme Court. That is just one of the many courthouses where the justice may be seen.

Although she hasn’t sat on the bench of the nation’s highest court since retiring in 2006 to care for her ailing husband (she can be spotted in the Supreme courtroom on occasion, though), O’Connor has been filling in for judges on federal courts across the country.

In her substitute judge capacity, O’Connor has heard scores of cases and has written more than a dozen opinions.

O’Connor said that the cases that come before her in the lower courts aren’t always as fascinating as the ones the Supreme Court selected to hear during her time at One First St., NE. “Some fact-bound criminal case is not of special interest to me, I have to confess,” she said. They are “not particularly demanding, intellectually. …Ninety-nine percent of it doesn’t have the intrinsic political or public implications of a typical Supreme Court case.”

Still, she enjoys the work, even when it means applying Supreme Court precedent in cases from which she dissented. “I now have occasion to have to apply some of those [Supreme Court] holdings with which I didn’t agree when they were made, but of course now they’re binding,” she said. “It hasn’t caused me to change my mind on a previous dissent. But that’s water over the dam.”

More here from The WSJ.

Monday status conference: Working recess

It seems much quieter in the nation’s capital this morning – it’s a lot easier to find a seat on Metro, for example – and a big reason is that Congress has adjourned for summer break. But that doesn’t mean that lawmakers aren’t busy – many are in their home states holding town meetings and other public forums on health care reform. And some of the folks at those meetings have been a little testy.

Meanwhile, a growing number of newspaper editorial boards, policy experts and others are saying they want a health care package that includes some sort of medical malpractice reform – an issue President Obama will have to wrangle with once the White House and lawmakers resume work on health care reform in September. For now, Obama’s in Mexico at a North American summit.

Meanwhile,

New justice: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor officially started the job Saturday. (Lawyers USA)

Supreme partisanship: Four of the nine GOP senators who voted to confirm Justice Sonia Sotomayor are retiring – a fact fueling Democrats argument that she was a qualified candidate caught up in a partisan attack by an out-of-the-mainstream party base. But Republicans deny that the election played a role in their votes. (The Hill)

Obama nominates: With his first pick for the nation’s high court seated, Obama is naming more federal judiciary nominees. (WSJ Law Blog)

It’s hard out here for a former AG: Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is still waiting for a law firm to come calling with a job offer. He’s also still waiting for former President George W. Bush to call him to say, well, anything. (NYT Magazine, via ABA Journal)

Fool for a client? More folks, in a effort to save cash, are going to court without the help of an attorney. But many find that courtrooms can be danger places for novices. (LAT)

Friday morning docket: New justice tops off busy week

After a marathon week, members of the Senate are finally packing their bags to head out of town for August break, while Sonia Sotomayor prepares to officially start her new job tomorrow. And although the biggest news of the week involved the Supreme Court’s newest justice designate, plenty other legal news was being made:

Crying foul: The American Association for Justice is pushing back against what it calls “inaccurate and purposefully misleading” reporting in a newswire story about a bill that would allow attorneys to deduct certain expenses and costs in contingency fee cases up front. (Lawyers USA)

Don’t text and drive: Texting while driving would become a federal offense under a bill introduced in the Senate. (Lawyers USA)

Not set in Stoneridge: Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Penn., has introduced legislation that would allow civil suits to broaden the number of actors that may be sued for securities law violations. (Lawyers USA)

Reversing Riegel? A Senate committee heard testimony this week on the potential effect of a bill that would overturn a Supreme Court ruling banning state law tort suits against the makers of certain medical devices. (Lawyers USA)

Trying to Gitmo attention: Two Kansas senators have put the brakes on 10 President Obama’s nominees for key Pentagon and Justice Department posts to protest his plan to house Guantanamo detainees at the Fort Leavenworth prison. (AP)

Immigration transformation: The White House announced a plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration detention system to house civil detainees in one centralized location instead of in a scattered network of local jails and private prisons. (LAT)

A first: Televised SCOTUS swearing in

On Saturday, Sonia Sotomayor will be sworn in as the 111th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The event will be unprecedented not only because she will be the Court’s first Latina justice – but also because it is the first time such a ceremony will be televised.

Sotomayor will take two oaths, administered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. The first Constitutional oath will be taken in a private ceremony open only to Sotomayor’s family. Then Sotomayor will take the judicial oath, administered in one of the conference rooms at the Supreme Court building. At that ceremony, members of the press and television cameras will be allowed.

Supreme Court Spokeswoman Kathy Arberg told the Associated Press that this will be the first time such a ceremony will be open to television cameras.

Is this a sign of the future? Sotomayor replaces Justice David Souter, who famously said that if cameras are ever allowed in the courtroom of the nation’s highest court, “it will be over my dead body.” But during her confirmation hearings, Sotomayor said her experiences with courtroom cameras has been largely positive, and that she would tell the other justices so. But, she said “I wouldn’t try to come in with pre-judgment so they thought I was unwilling to listen to their views.”

Read more about today’s Senate confirmation of Sotomayor here on Lawyers USA online.

Sotomayor confirmed 68-31

Sonia Sotomayor, the 2nd Circuit Judge and first Supreme Court nominee of President Barack Obama, was just confirmed by the U.S. Senate, clearing the way for her to be sworn in as the 111th justice and first Latina on the nation’s highest court.

Moments ago the Senate voted to confirm Sotomayor, 55, by a vote of 68-31. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a strong supporter of the candidate, was absent as he continues to receive treatment for a brain tumor in his home state.

More to come later on this blog and on Lawyers USA online.

Justice Thomas at a Wal-Mart near you?

While some Supreme Court justices spend the summer months at vacation homes, or travelling the world as lecturers and guest professors, you just might catch Justice Clarence Thomas camping out in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

The justice and his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, prefer life on the road in their recreational vehicle over the jet set. They are currently enjoying their mobile vacation pad somewhere in the Adirondacks, Ginni Thomas told the morning radio show The Takeaway. And, she said, on a given night, the Wal-Mart parking lot is the place to be.

“We have been in dozens of Wal-Mart parking lots throughout the country. Actually, it’s one of our favorite things to do [because] you can get a little shopping in, see part of real America. It’s fun!” she said.

She said that the best thing about life on the road is the anonymity it provides. When people in RV camps get wind that a Supreme Court justice is in their midst, the couple usually gets mobbed and “we have to move on,” she said.

Over the last decade the couple has driven their used motor home through more than 29 states during the summer months. “We have found it’s a wonderful life,” Mrs. Thomas said. You can hear the full story here.

HT: How Appealing

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