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The year in DC Dicta

We’ve reached the end of 2009 – and what a year it’s been for legal news in Washington!  We did a quick scan of DC Dicta’s web hits find some of the most buzz-worthy news topics of the year, according to you. From celebrity legal battles to the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice, here’s a snapshot of what you read on DC Dicta this year:

Presidential oath redo. In January, the eyes of the world were on Washington for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Not the best time to make a mistake, and unfortunately for Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., his slip of the tongue while administering the oath not only caused some chuckles, but also spurred conspiracy theorists to suggest the oath didn’t take. So Roberts and Obama had a redo at the White House.

Souter to Sotomayor. The retirement of Justice David Souter kicked off one of the busiest summers DC Dicta has ever had. After Souter officially announced his plans to step down back in May, speculation began to run rampant over who President Obama would select as his first high court pick. The list included Govs. Jennifer Granholm and Deval Patrick, and Judges Merrick Garland and Diane Wood. Obama ultimately selected 2nd Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Liveblogging the confirmation. Though at first Sotomayor’s record seemed to ensure a foolproof confirmation process, controversy involving a previous speech she made put the phrase “wise Latina woman” at the center of her confirmation hearings before the Senate – hearings that gave DC Dicta a chance to do it’s first ever liveblog.

Anna’s posthumous legal battles. The original parties in the legal battle between Anna Nicole Smith and her former stepson died before the year began, yet the courtroom battle over the estate of Smith’s late billionaire oil baron husband continued on. Smith’s lawyer and alleged paramour Howard K. Stern tried in vain to get the U.S. Supreme Court to lift a stay of the award, saying Marshall’s kin was pilfering the money. Stern himself would later face his own legal troubles involving claims he illegally procured drugs for the former pinup.

Scalia’s a funny guy. Who says the Supreme Court is a stodgy place. Justices of the high court are known for making the crowd laugh hundreds of times a term, and none is funnier than Justice Antonin Scalia.

Sotomayor’s community connection

When President Barack Obama asked Sonia Sotomayor to be his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court back in the spring, he also asked her to promise him two things.

“The first was to remain the person I was, and the second was to stay connected to my community,” Sotomayor said in a C-SPAN interview, as recounted by USA Today‘s Joan Biskupic. “I said to him that those were two easy promises to make, because those two things I could not change.”

Biskupic’s piece on Sotomayor’s impact on the Latino community – and the community’s impact on the justice – can be found here.

Lawmaker wants military trial for plane bomber

Today a the ranking GOP member of the House Homeland Security Committee said he wants the man who tried to ignite a bomb aboard a U.S.-bound plane on Christmas Day to be tried in a military tribunal instead of a civilian court.

Rep. Peter King, speaking on NBC’s “Today” show this morning, and said the military trial would allow investigators to obtain more useful information out of the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. If the suspect is tried in civil court, rights afforded him – such as the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination – it will be more difficult for authorities to get such information, the New York lawmaker said.

Last month, the decision by the Obama administration to hold the trials for accused Sept. 11 attacks mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and three alleged co-conspirators in a New York federal court instead of a military commission drew wide criticism from some lawmakers, victims’ families and even former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Monday status conference: …Not even a mouse

Congress is out, as is the Supreme Court, and the first family is in Hawaii, so expect things to be relatively quiet here in Washington this week. But we still have some legal news updates to start off your week:

Red flag filings: The Federal Trade Commission and the American Bar Association have agreed to dismiss the remaining counts of the lawsuit the ABA brought to stop the agency from enforcing its “red flags” anti-data theft regulations against lawyers. (Lawyers USA)

Med-mal reform profit? State-level tort reform efforts have resulted in a boost in profit for insurance companies, according to a study by the nation’s largest trial lawyers group. (Lawyers USA)

Extended COBRA: The defense spending measure signed into law by President Barack Obama includes an amendment that extends federal health care benefits for the unemployed that was part of the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year. (Lawyers USA)

SCOTUS first: the Supreme Court has, apparently for the first time ever, asked a state solicitor general to file a brief expressing the state’s views on a law involving court-appointed counsel in family law cases. (SCOTUSblog)

Ginsburg’s advice on marriage and Court camaraderie

Last week Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke at an event hosted by the Harvard Club of Washington, DC, which honored the justice with a public service award.

In her remarks, she touched on everything from the power of the dissent (dissents read from the bench are “meant to get immediate public attention and spur Congressional action,” as in the Ledbetter case, she said) to the most boring statute on the books in her opinion (ERISA just beats out the IRS Code).

But during the question-and-answer session of the luncheon, Ginsburg was asked not only about the law, but also about the secret of her 55-year marriage to Georgetown University Law Center professor and tax law guru Martin D. Ginsburg.

Ginsburg said the best advice she got was from her mother-in-law-to-be just before the wedding.

“She said: ‘Dear, it pays sometimes to just be a little deaf,” Ginsburg said, drawing laughs from the crowd.

“I have followed that advice throughout my long married life, but also with respect to some of my colleagues” on the Court, Ginsburg added, drawing more laughter.

High Court job tough on Sotomayor’s dating life

Being a U.S. Supreme Court justice has its benefits, but apparently a booming social life isn’t one of them.

The Court’s newest jurist, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said she dated until the spring, when she was tapped by President Obama to take retired Justice David Souter’s seat on the nation’s highest court. Since then, though, her dating life has taken a bit of a hit.

“I understand from my girlfriends that I’ve been put on a most-eligible bachelorette list,” said Sotomayor in Puerto Rico, where she is spending the holidays, according to the New York Daily News. “But right now I pity the man who tries to find a minute in my schedule.”

She also is a little dismayed that the term “wise Latina,” which came from a past speech that was widely scrutinized during her confirmation hearings this summer, has been used by profiteers who have put the phrase on T-shirts and other products.

“When I spoke my words, I spoke them freely,” she said, according to the Daily News. “And I never intended for people to make money off them, because that seems wrong to me.”

Monday status conference: Not a creature is stirring…

As Washington continues to dig out from the weekend’s big snow storm, federal agencies and courts are closed today. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers on House side had already wrapped up for the holiday season, but the Senate is still in session.

Senators were at it until the wee hours last night, eventually ending debate on the controversial health care bill. The bill is now primed for a final vote before the end of this holiday-shortened week. As for today, the decision of whether each individual senator’s office will be open or closed today will rest with the lawmaker.

As you thaw out, here is some legal news:

Privilege protections: A bill that would bar attorneys in any government department from requesting a waiver of the attorney-client privilege in exchange for consideration in criminal or civil investigations has been filed by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers. (Lawyers USA)

Judiciary budget boost: Although the final amount was less than requested, judicial officials praised Congress’s approval of $6.9 billion in appropriations for the federal judiciary in fiscal year 2010. (Lawyers USA)

Good news cert denial? The Supreme Court’s decision Monday not to review Chrysler’s bankruptcy may turn out to help GM product liability claimants who were left in the lurch. (Lawyers USA)

SCOTUS consequences: The Supreme Court’s ruling in the case Maryland v. Shatzer could fundamentally affect the case against the man accused of killing Chandra Levy. (McClatchy)

Cranky senators: All work and no play makes the Senate an grumpy place. (Politico)

Friday morning docket: Let it snow!

Washington is a little quieter this Friday. The Supreme Court has already recessed for the holidays, as have House lawmakers. Members of the Senate are still in town, though, and they are scheduled to work through the weekend – despite a snowy forecast – to try to make progress on the health care bill and pass a military spending plan.

So before you rush off to the grocery store to stock up on milk before hunkering down for the snowstorm (Washingtonians seem to do that a lot, something that puzzles DC Dicta, who is from Michigan by way of Massachusetts), let’s take a look at the news:

Lawyers of the Year! It’s that time again! Lawyers USA has unveiled its list of lawyers whose work made a significant impact on the law during the year just past. And the list has a few names familiar to those inside the Beltway. Check out the list here. (Lawyers USA)

Capital sentences waning…: There were fewer death penalty sentences handed down in 2009 than in any other year since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976. (CNN)

…but executions on the rise: In a strange corollary, more death row convicts were executed in the United States this year than last. (The New York Times).

Backlog backlash: Witnesses, including a victim of rape, urged Congress to do something about the backlog of untested rape kits nationwide. (CBS News)

Sotomayor’s Caribbean Christmas vacation

It’s won’t be a snowy Christmas for Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The Supreme Court’s newest juror is spending the holidays with her family in the balmy warmth of Puerto Rico.

Sotomayor hails from New York, but she was met with a warm welcome yesterday when she landed on the Caribbean island, where she’ll spend the holidays with family. (Both of her parents were born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York during World War II.)

According to the Associated Press, she told reporters at San Juan’s international airport, in Spanish: “My mother and I want to extend a warm embrace to our beloved island of Puerto Rico.”

She answered only one question: what she planned to do during her trip.

“I am going to eat mofongo,” Sotomayor said, referring to the plantain dish.