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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Supreme spouses memorialize Martin Ginsburg with cookbook

Martin Ginsburg, the late husband of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was not only a prominent law professor and tax practitioner. He also was quite the cook.

That trait is the focus of a memorial book created by the Supreme Court justices’ spouses and released this week titled, Supreme Chef: Martin Ginsburg.

According to the National Law Journal’s Tony Mauro, the book features many of Ginsburg’s recipes –  from osso buco to chocolate chip oatmeal cookies – punctuated with tributes from the justices’ spouses.  Joanna Breyer remembers Ginsburg giving her just enough advice  “to steer me away from complete culinary disaster.”

In an afterword, Martha-Ann Alito wrote: “Marty’s gleeful smile, his mischievous wit, perfect manners and his adoring gaze of Justice Ruth enlivened every event we as spouses shared. His benchmark warmth, culinary excellence and considerate birthday cakes remain goals to be attained by this most junior spouse. He lives on as an inspiration to me.”

The book was published by the Supreme Court Historical Society.

The Funniest Justice, week 6: Patently funny

“Look, anything can be transformed into a process,” Justice Stephen Breyer told Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Wednesday during oral arguments in the patent case Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, “Look at those real estate ones, lawyers ones. I have a way of making a great argument in the Supreme Court. You know, you could patent some of your arguments.”

This was one of four funny comments from Breyer during this week of oral arguments, making him this week’s top laugh earner. Justice Antonin Scalia got three chuckles, while Justice Anthony Kennedy earned two laughs.

Here are the standings after six weeks:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 21

Justice Stephen Breyer: 16

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 9

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 3

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Justice Samuel Alito: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0

Justice’s estate sale draws curious, collectors, Court junkies

Some arrived before dawn to wait in line for more than six hours – just for a chance to look at  a celebrity’s stuff. But the celebrity in question wasn’t Justice Bieber or Lady Gaga. He was a Supreme Court justice.

This past weekend an estate sale at the Northwest Washington home of the late Justice Potter Stewart – who famously defined pornography by observing: “I know it when I see it” – drew attorneys, antique collectors, family friends and law students seeking to catch a glimpse of – and maybe walk away with – some of the Stewart’s trinkets and treasures.

According to the Washington Post, Stewart’s widow, Mary Ann, moved to New Hampshire several years ago, and the family decided to sell their house in Washington.

From the copy of “War and Peace” signed by the justice, to a squash ball he once batted around a court, to photographs of the justice with his family, former president Ronald Reagan, former president George H.W. Bush and even actor Rock Hudson, shoppers and gawkers had plenty to take in.

Adam Fernandez, a 29-year-old law student, hoped that some of Stewart’s legacy would rub off on his own career – with the help of the leather briefcase he scored at the sale. “I’m in my third year, and I’m going to be a real lawyer soon, and I think I’ll be using this briefcase,” he told the Post.

Mukasey: Supreme healthcare recusal calls ‘nonesense’

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey thinks the arguments being made by those calling on Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan to recuse themselves from consideration of the health care challenge are “nonsense.”

In an editorial today in the Wall Street Journal, Mukasey, who helmed the Justice Department for two years under President George W. Bush, takes on critics who think the justices should be disqualified because of Thomas’ wife’s work for groups advocating for the law’s demise and  Kagan’s work as solicitor general when the health care challenges began.

Mukasey takes a strictly legal approach to the situation. The facts underlying the allegations of potential bias do not raise to the level of federal recusal standards, he concludes.

Mukasey wrote; “upon even a cursory examination of the facts it is clear that neither justice should step aside. The court we have should decide the case.”

He noted, however, that the calls for the justices to step aside are not legal at all, but rather a political – a symptom of the increasingly politicized atmosphere the justices face from the time that they sit before the Senate for confirmation.

“The selection of judges has become a high stakes exercise for agenda-driven politics, with nominees often selected with at least one eye focused on their expected tilt on the issues of the day,” Mukasey wrote. “[Later, w]hen contentious cases then come before them, the agenda-driven politics that helped seat the judges does not disappear, nor do the stakes diminish; they rise—along with incentives to disqualify judges.”

Lawmaker continues to press White House on Kagan’s role in health care law’s defense

Rep. Lamar Smith is amplifying his call to the White House to disclose more information about Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s involvement in crafting the defense of the federal health care overhaul when she was solicitor general now that the Court is set to decide the law’s constitutionality.

“Justice Elena Kagan may have played a role in the development and defense of the president’s health-care law during her tenure as U.S. solicitor general,” the Texas Republican wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post. “Despite claims from Obama administration officials that Kagan was not involved in the health-care discussions, e-mails released last month indicate that there may be more to the story.”

Smith is one of several Republican lawmakers and conservative interest groups who have raised concerns about Kagan’s participation in the case. The Justice Department released emails from Kagan’s tenure as solicitor general which show, according to the Obama administration, that measures were taken to shield Kagan from involvement in the defense of the law, which was challenged in federal courts as Kagan was rumored to be a candidate to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Court.

But Smith said some of the emails are inconsistent  with that position, and the White House should provide more information.

“The NFL wouldn’t allow a team to officiate its own game,” Smith worte. “If, as solicitor general, Kagan did advise administration officials on the constitutionality of the president’s health-care law, she should not officiate when the matter comes before the Supreme Court.”

Smith noted that both Kagan and Justice Clarence Thomas – whose wife is affiliated with groups opposing the law – are facing increasing calls by some interest groups to step aside in the case. But according to Smith, the questions raised about Kagan are much more serious.

“[C]oncerns about the job or personal views of a justice’s spouse are not the same as concerns that a justice may have been involved in a matter before it reached the high court,” Smith wrote.

The Funniest Justice, week 5: Scalia swings at first pitch

When attorney Aaron M. Panner began making his argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of his client, the defendant in a RESPA case, he didn’t realize he was setting up a joke.

“It seems to me that there are two positions that have been articulated before the Court and both are inconsistent with the Court’s prior decisions,” Panner began his argument Monday in the case First American Financial Corp v. Edwards.

Without missing a beat, Justice Antonin Scalia jumped in.

“Not yours and his?” Scalia asked, referring to Panner and the plaintiff’s attorney, and drawing chuckles from the crowd.

Panner clarified.

“That of the plaintiff and that of the government, Your Honor. I should have been more particularized,” Panner said, drawing his own laughter.

Scalia’s quick quip was one of three laugh-inducing comments from the Court’s most senior associate justice, padding his lead in our Funniest Justice tally. Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer* each earned two laughs this week, and Justice Anthony Kennedy* also made it on the board with one laugh.

Here’s the running tally after five weeks of oral arguments:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 18

Justice Stephen Breyer: 12

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 9

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas (still no peep): 0

Justice Samuel Alito: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0

*While DC Dicta usually goes strictly by Court transcripts in determining the laugh tally, this week we made an exception because we witnessed a laugh-inducing comment made by Breyer which was credited to Kennedy in the transcript. Specifically, during arguments in the case Hall v. U.S., we are quite positive that it was Breyer, no Kennedy, who said: “It’s like an Abbott and Costello movie.” (See p. 14 of the transcript). Luckily, Kennedy earned his own laugh in Setser v. U.S. (See pp. 18-19 of the transcript) so he should not feel robbed.