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Monthly Archives: January 2010

J.Lo: Sotomayor is just like me!

It is rare that an interview in a fashion magazine produces the kind of quotes that would get a mention on DC Dicta. But when Jennifer Lopez compares herself to a Supreme Court justice, we feel compelled to let you know.

In an interview in the February issue of Elle Magazine, the singer and actress talks about fellow Bronx native Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Lopez, whose family hails from Puerto Rico just as Sotomayor’s does, describes the whirlwind of media attention and scrutiny the newest Supreme Court has experienced since she was nominated. And the experience for the justice is, Lopez explained, has been just like her own. (Because, as you all know, being named as a Supreme Court justice, and being an actress best known for her breakups, marriages and risqué clothing choices is exactly the same thing!)

“Very smart,” Lopez begins when asked about Sotomayor, who Lopez feted at a party at her home last year. “And down-to-earth but overwhelmed, I think. She didn’t realize what she was going to symbolize. And it’s always scary to be thrown into it – that’s what I felt like when I did [the film] Selena. You’re thrown out there, and all of a sudden you’re not anonymous. You are known. And that’s a lot to handle. It’s scary at first. Then you get used to it. And so she was in that moment in her life where it’s just like, What the hell? Everybody’s clapping for me. People are writing about me, talking about me, I’m on TV. She was just a judge in New York.”

Of course, by “just a judge in New York,” Lopez means Sotomayor was a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Which, as you know, is not exactly Judge Harry Stone. But we digress…

The author of the article follows up this quote with the observation, apparently made without sarcasm: “Obviously, Lopez can relate.”


Obama blasts campaign finance ruling; Congressional response could follow

President Barack Obama blasted today’s Supreme Court Ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which rolled back campaign finance rules against corporate campaign contributions in federal elections, vowing to work with Congress to overturn the ruling.

“With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics,” the president said in a statement. “It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

Saying the decision gives greater power to Washington lobbyists, Obama said he is instructing his administration “to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue.”

“We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision,” Obama said.

Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold also responded to the ruling today, which overturned part of the federal campaign finance law that bears their names.

“I am disappointed by the decision of the Supreme Court and the lifting of the limits on corporate and union contributions,” McCain said in a statement  “However, it appears that key aspects of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act …including the ban on soft money contributions, remain intact.”

Feingold’s statement was more forceful, calling the ruling a “terrible mistake.”

“[T]he Supreme Court chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president,” Feingold said.  “Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns.”

He also promised to “work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible.”

The wait is over: High Court eases corporate campaign finance limits

Usually when the U.S. Supreme Court takes longer than usual to hand down a decision in a particular case, it means there is likely a long opinion – complete with concurrences and/or dissents – in the making. And today’s decision in the eagerly awaited campaign finance case Citizens United v. FEC was no exception.

After all, it takes time to draft and circulate 176 pages of opinion writing among nine justices.

The split opinion eased campaign finance limits on corporate spending in presidential and congressional elections, overruling Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and partially overruling McConnell v. FEC in the process.

In the 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court held that corporations may spend freely in federal election campaigns so long as the contributions are not made directly to candidates. Kennedy was joined by the Court’s more conservative bloc. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a lengthy dissent, which was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The ruling did keep in place some disclosure requirements on corporations that spend more than $10,000 per year. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the portion of the opinion upholding disclosure requirements.

Much more on the decision can be found from the deft Supreme Court reporters at the Associated Press and SCOTUSblog.

Opinion(s) today: Could it be Citizens United?

Those eagerly waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court’s campaign finance law ruling in Citizens United v. FEC will be paying close attention to the Court this morning at 10 a.m. That’s when the justices will appear in a rare Thursday sitting.

Although the Court gave no reason was given for today’s special session when it was announced yesterday, it is likely that the Court will release one or more opinions. And since Citizens United is the longest outstanding opinion – it’s a holder from last term – there is a chance it could be announced today.

Why the special session? No one knows for sure, but SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston writes that the reason could be simple, like the expected absence Monday of a justice who was scheduled to announce the opinion. So don’t read too much into today’s session.

SCOTUS: Gifts of naughty chocolate improper during DP trial

The U.S. Supreme Court blasted some surreptitious and improper behavior during a death penalty trial in an unusual per curiam opinion handed down yesterday.

The case Wellons v. Hall involves a Georgia man who was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to death. And while the trial seemed to be conducted normally, there were some behind-the-scenes shenanigans going on between the judge, the bailiff and the jurors that the Supreme Court ultimately deemed “disturbing.”

Among the shenanigans: Gifts of chocolate shaped as genitalia and breasts bits given by member of the jury to the judge and bailiff.

The Court ruled that the 11th Circuit failed to adequately examine the facts of the case before it affirmed the conviction and sentence, and ordered the lower court to take another stab at it.

“From beginning to end, judicial proceedings conducted for the purpose of deciding whether a defendant shall be put to death must be conducted with dignity and respect,” the Court ruled. “The disturbing facts of this case raise serious questions concerning the conduct of the trial, and this petition raises a serious question about whether the Court of Appeals carefully reviewed those facts before addressing petitioner’s constitutional claims.”

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. dissented from the ruling in two separate opinions penned by Scalia and Alito. (Much blog and Twitter snickering surrounded footnote 3 of Alito’s opinion yesterday). The dissenting justices found that, no matter how unsavory the behavior at trial, the defendant’s claim failed on other grounds.

Mass. senate vote could be game changer

Here in Washington folks are focused on Massachusetts, where voters today will decide who will take the Senate seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. The election could be a game changer in the Senate.

If the Republican candidate and state senator Scott Brown wins, not only will he be the first GOP member the state has sent to the U.S. Senate in decades, it will also rob the Democrats of the 60-vote filibuster power in the chamber.

Brown has been making headlines with his recent surge in the polls against Martha Coakley, the Democratic opponent and state attorney general. (DC Dicta readers may remember Coakley from her Supreme Court oral argument in the case Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts.)

But Democrats are pushing hard for a win. Kennedy’s widow Vicki Kennedy has done ads and robocalls, and President Barack Obama stumped in the Bay State for Coakley over the weekend.

Obama’s interest in the race goes beyond party loyalty – the slight tilt in party power in the Senate not only could have significant ramifications in the president’s plan to pass health care reform and a number of other pieces of legislation affecting everything from pleading standards to medical device litigation and arbitration reform, it could also bode badly for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections.

Friday morning docket: Getting help to Haiti

The event that has dominated mainstream news all week – the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti – is being felt in the American legal community as well. Lawyers are among the missing in the wake of the quake, and their family members have been taking to social networking sites in hopes of getting work that they are safe.

Meanwhile, American Bar Association President Carolyn B. Lamm is has asked members of the legal community to support humanitarian relief efforts to the country, and many attorneys and firms have done so already.

President Barack Obama has pledged $100 million in U.S. aid to the country, a figure that was matched by the World Bank, and the disaster came just as the White House was preparing to announce new policies aimed at improving U.S.-Haiti relations.

Now for a look at some legal news:

AAJ’s agenda: The nation’s largest trial attorney group has announced that it will focus on boosting consumer protections and promoting corporate accountability as part of its legislative agenda this year. (Lawyers USA)

Special courts for failing banks? The Senate is considering a plan that would create specialized bankruptcy courts for struggling banks and financial services firms, according to a report from Reuters.(Reuters, via Lawyers USA)

O’Connor on elections: Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been advocating against the practice of electing judges, will be the keynote speaker at a Georgetown University Law Center forum focusing on two Supreme Court cases about elections. (The BLT Blog)

The day Thomas almost said something: Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick was all excited when it appeared that Clarence Thomas would make his first oral argument remark in years. “We all start craning and gaping. And then Thomas… takes off his glasses, tips his head back up against his headrest, and closes his eyes.” (Slate)

Sorry Pats – Justice Breyer’s all about the Red Sox

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer may be from San Francisco, but his many years in the Boston area as a Harvard Law School professor and then as a judge on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals caused him to leave his heart in Red Sox Nation.

So when the Court took up an antitrust case involving the NFL yesterday, Breyer was all ready with his sports hypotheticals. But clearly, football is not the justice’s game.

“I’m asking a question,” Breyer said to attorney Glen Nager during oral arguments in American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League. “And I just heard you say that you want, for example, you want the Patriots to sell T-shirts in competition with the Saints, or whoever.”

If Breyer was searching for an NFL rivalry, Pats fans know the New York Jets would have been a better choice for the hypo. But no worries – Breyer quickly shifted gears to baseball.

“The Red Sox, All right,” Breyer said, turning the question to more familiar territory. “You see the point? The Red Sox — I know baseball better. You want the Red Sox to compete in selling T-shirts with the Yankees; is that right?”

“The ability to compete, Yes” Nager said.

“Yes, okay,” Breyer said. “I don’t know a Red Sox fan who would take a Yankees sweatshirt if you gave it away.”

Supreme Court blocks broadcast of California gay marriage trial

The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked broadcast of the same-sex marriage trial in California on a procedural technicality.

In a 5-4 ruling issued Wednesday evening, the Court declined to rule on the merits of “whether such trials should be broadcast.” Instead, the unsigned opinion states, “the broadcast in this case should be stayed because it appears the courts below did not follow the appropriate procedures set forth in federal law before changing their rules to allow such broadcasting.”

The Court held that the district court failed to follow proper procedures when it amended its local rules in order to allow the trial to be broadcast, and failed to give sufficient time for notice and comment on the rule change. Coverage of the trial was to be aired on the video sharing site YouTube.com.

The Court, acknowledging that the issue of cameras in the courtroom is a hot topic, took a pass on addressing that issue. “We do not here express any views on the propriety of broadcasting court proceedings generally,” the opinion stated. “Instead, our review is confined to a narrow legal issue: whether the District Court’s amendment of its local rules to broadcast this trial complied with federal law. We conclude that it likely did not and that applicants have demonstrated that irreparable harm would likely result from the District Court’s actions.”

Opponents of broadcasting the proceedings argued that it could result in witness harassment and intimidation.  “Some of applicants’ witnesses have already said that they will not testify if the trial is broadcast, and they have substantiated their concerns by citing incidents of past harassment,” the opinion states, adding: “The balance of equities favors applicants. While applicants have demonstrated the threat of harm they face if the trial is broadcast, respondents have not alleged any harm if the trial is not broadcast.”

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented from the per curiam ruling, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

“Certainly the parties themselves had more than adequate notice and opportunity to comment before the Rule was changed,” Breyer wrote. “There was also sufficient ‘opportunity for comment.’ The parties, the intervenors, other judges, the public-all had an opportunity to comment.”

Then Breyer questioned why the High Court was involved in the first place.

“This legal question is not the kind of legal question that this Court would normally grant certiorari to consider,” Breyer wrote. “There is no conflict among the state or federal courts regarding the procedures by which a district court changes its local rules.”

As to the issue of irreparable harm, Breyer wrote: “the witnesses, although capable of doing so, have not asked this Court to set aside the District Court’s order. And that is not surprising. All of the witnesses supporting the applicants are already publicly identified with their cause. They are all experts or advocates who have either already appeared on television or Internet broadcasts, already toured the State advocating a ‘yes’ vote on Proposition 8, or already engaged in extensive public commentary far more likely to make them well known.”

The full opinion in the case Hollingsworth v. Perry can be read here.

Sotomayor: Comic book hero

Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s path to the U.S. Supreme Court is being commemorated in yet another, quite colorful way: she is getting her own comic book.

Bluewater Productions has announced that its comic book bio of the Court’s newest justice hit comic stores in April. The book will be based on the justice’s life and ascension from a Bronx housing project to the nation’s highest court.

The book will be part of the publisher’s “Female Force” series. The company has bestowed the honor of a comic book upon other “forceful” females, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Lady Gaga.