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The chief justice and attorney general are gifted

Being chief justice of the United States or U.S. attorney general can come with perks – like getting gifts from foreign dignitaries.

Of course, the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol keeps tally of such presents. According to the latest list from the agency, featuring gifts bestowed to federal officials in 2010 and 2011, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. received some fancy sandstone bookends and a leather document box from Canadian and Italian officials. The swag’s total value estimated at just over $800.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. pulled in a bigger pile of loot, including an iPad, a Cartier watch and Persian rug, was valued at an estimated $5,275, according to the list obtained by the Wall Street Journal. (The full list contains all the offerings to the president, first lady and their children as well as other officials.)

Federal officials are constitutionally barred from accepting gifts from foreign states. But the gifts are still usually accepted, the most common official reason being “Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.” They then become government property, usually displayed in the receiver’s office or used for official purposes, like the case of Holder’s iPad. The rest — including Holder’s blingy watch — is transferred to the General Services Administration.

Obama administration urges Court to strike down Prop 8

The federal government, in addition to waging its own battle against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, has officially waded into the Supreme Court challenge to California’s same-sex marriage ban, asking the justices last night to strick down the law, though stopping short of asking the Court to set a nationwide rule.

The Justice Departments amicus brief in Hollingsworth v. Perry asks the Court to strike the marriage and civil union laws in California and eight other states that limit or prevent same-sex couples from enjoying the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples. The Court can do this, the Obama Administration argues, without declaring a national constitutional right to marry – an issue that can wait until another day, the brief said.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. explained in a statement released yesterday, “the government seeks to vindicate the defining constitutional ideal of equal treatment under the law.”

“Throughout history, we have seen the unjust consequences of decisions and policies rooted in discrimination,” Holder’s statement said. “The issues before the Supreme Court in this case and the Defense of Marriage Act case are not just important to the tens of thousands of Americans who are being denied equal benefits and rights under our laws, but to our Nation as a whole.”

Attorney’s fee tab secretly grows in DOMA defense

House Republicans signed authorized an increase the maximum amount Paul Clement and his colleagues at Bancroft can be paid to defend the Defense of Marriage Act from $1.5 million to $2 million – and Democrats were in the dark about the move for three months.

This week Democrats learned on the measure, which was signed off three months ago by House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren, R-Calif., this week, Roll Call reports. This is the third time GOP lawmakers have lifted the cap on the tax payer-funded attorney fees that can be paid in their defense of the law, which denies to same-sex married couples benefits available to other married couples.

The quietly-authorized increase angered Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who in a statement called the move “unconscionable” and “irresponsible.”

The U.S. Supreme Court granted cert in the 2nd Circuit DOMA challenge last week, and is expected to hear the case in March.

Quoted: Holder ponders future

“Do I think that there are things that I still want to do? Do I have gas left in the tank? It’s been an interesting and tough four years. I just really don’t know. I don’t know at this point.”

-Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., speculating openly about his future while speaking at the University of Baltimore Law School yesterday (via CNN).

Obama wanted to try bin Laden in civilian court

If Osama bin Laden has been captured alive, President Barack Obama’s preference would have been to for him to have been tried in civilian court, according to author Mark Bowden.

In a Vanity Fair piece [HT: Law Blog] adapted from Bowden’s book “The Finish,” Obama is quoted:

“We worked through the legal and political issues that would have been involved, and Congress and the desire to send him to Guantanamo, and to not try him, and Article III. I mean, we had worked through a whole bunch of those scenarios. But, frankly, my belief was if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaeda, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr.”

They may not have been an easy task, given the opposition Attorney General Eric Holder faced in his failed attempt to try accused terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a federal criminal court in New York.

GOP readies lawsuit against Holder

Congress is in the midst of a five-week summer recess, but that won’t stop some GOP lawmakers from filing a lawsuit against Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Lest week House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. told NBC News that Republican members of Congress will sue Holder to compel the release documents associated with the failed “Fast and Furious” gun-walking operation. In June, the House voted to hold Holder in contempt, but a U.S. attorney declined to prosecute Holder.

“We’ll be filing a civil case during the break,” Issa told NBC, “We will expect a day in court before a federal judge, which we have a 100 percent chance that the judge will hold that these documents should be delivered.”

AG Holder held in contempt of Congress

Capping an historic legal news day here in Washington, the House has voted for the first time in  history to hold a U.S. attorney general in contempt of Congress.

As lawmakers, including more than a dozen Democrats, voted to censure Attorney General Eric Holder, a group of Democratic lawmakers walked out of the House chamber in a planned, yet dramatic display of protest. The move came just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld nearly all of the federal health care law – making this a good day and a bad day for the Obama administration.

More on this story to come on Lawyers USA.

Healthcare decision, Holder vote make for big news day

The U.S. Supreme Court will finally release the widely-anticipated opinions or opinions in the cases challenging the federal health care law this morning. At 10 a.m. the Court will convene for the last time this term to deliver opinions.

The Court will also rule in a case that has drawn fewer headlines, but could have a big impact on civil litigation rights: First American Financial Corp v. Edwards, which considered whether a plaintiff homeowner must show actual injury to bring a claim that a kickback scheme violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

Meanwhile, across the street from the Court, the federal government’s top lawyer, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., faces a contempt of Congress vote in the House.

Lawyers USA will have the latest on all these stories today. And don’t forget to follow the action from DC Dicta and Lawyers USA on Twitter.

AG Holder in the hot seat

The House of Representatives could hold a vote as early as next week on whether to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. in contempt of Congress after a House panel recommended the charge in a party-line vote yesterday.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recommendation came after allegations that the Holder and the Department of Justice withheld subpoenaed documents related to the controversial Operation Fast and Furious. The request spurred President Barack Obama to invoke executive privilege to prevent disclosure of some of the subpoenaed documents.

If the full Republican-controlled House votes to hold Holder in contempt, the matter will be referred to District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr.  — a Justice Department employee —  to decide whether to criminally prosecute his boss.

More here from the Washington Post.

You hear the one about the SG, the cough and the bad reviews?

In the days after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the healthcare challenge and again after the Arizona immigration law case, there was a lot of chatter among Court watchers. And a lot of it involved one question: Just how bad was Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr.’s performance?

As the New York Times’ Adam Liptak points out in his piece yesterday, Supreme Court oral advocacy is usually not a spectator sport, at least not to the extent that it was when it came to Verrilli’s performance at the podium in March and April. But after the healthcare case, some observers skewered his performance as if he were a quarterback who choked and got repeatedly sacked at the Super Bowl.

Verrilli did choke a little – literally – at the start of the second day of arguments, coughing and needing to pause to take a drink of water in an effort to clear his throat of something. That problem only lasted briefly, but it proved to be a metaphor to how some saw his entire performance, spurring headlines like: “Obama’s Solicitor General Coughs, Stumbles, Stutters Through ObamaCare Defense.”

Others cut right to the chase, with headlines like the one on Mother Jones’ website: “Donald Verrilli Makes the Worst Supreme Court Argument of All Time.”

The critiques of his performance had the media on high alert once the immigration case came up. When at one point Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor suggested that Verrilli’s argument was “not selling well” with the justices, the press made a little collective gasp. Here we go again, we thought. We were right. The reviews were not good.

Liptak pointed out that in the court of public opinion, the jury was split. Members of the Supreme Court bar defended Verrilli, saying he had a very tough job to do, and he rose to the occasion.

“It always looks bad when the justices aren’t buying what you’re selling,” Ted Olson, veteran Supreme Court advocate and former solicitor general,  told Liptak. “Don had very, very difficult cases. That hand was dealt before he got there.”

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