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Olson readies his best Biden impersonation

Gibson Dunn partner Ted Olson is best known in legal circles as a former solicitor general and preeminent Supreme Court litigator who is currently working on the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 as it makes its way to the high court’s steps.

But Olson has taking another high-profile role this fall: that of Vice President Joe Biden.

GOP veep nominee Paul Ryan has tapped Olson to mimic Biden during debate preparations, according to the Washington Post. Ryan’s campaign spokesman Brendan Buck told the Post that Olson “one of the most skilled, intelligent and successful litigators in America — just the kind of opponent needed to prepare the congressman for Mr. Biden.”

For on the Prop 8 challenge, which is being led by Olson and David Boies as it makes its way closer to the U.S. Supreme Court, see the Lawyers USA story: “Gay marriage case one step away from Supreme Court’s door.”


Court will be Supreme presidential campaign issue

As President Barack Obama prepares to formally launch his reelection campaign and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney continues to stump, expect the Supreme Court to be a major campaign issue.

Two very high profile cases – the challenge to the federal health care law and the challenge to the Arizona immigration law authorizing local and state police with immigration enforcement powers – will be decided before the election, reminding voters of how important the Court is. And equally headline-grabbing cases – dealing with affirmative action in colleges and perhaps California’s same-sex marriage ban and the Defense of Marriage Act – lie on the horizon for the justices to take up next term.

All this comes at a time when the Court is nearly equally divided ideologically. And four of the nine justices are over the age of 70: Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg (79), Antonin Scalia (76), Anthony Kennedy (75), and Steven Breyer (73).

This week Obama indicated that he is fully aware of the major role the Court will play in the campaign.

“There are going to be some Supreme Court appointments probably if you look actuarially for the next president,” Obama said at a fundraiser with former President Clinton, according to the Washington Examiner. “There’s so much at stake here.”

Romney has already spoken about the importance of Supreme Court appointment power, and pledged to nominate judges with ideologies in line with the Court’s most conservative jurists.

(Romney photo by Gage Skidmore)

Romney’s SCOTUS wish list?

Is GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney already assembling a list of Supreme Court nominee prospects?

We don’ know. But lawyers and conservatives are tossing around names of people they’d like to see the former Massachusetts governor consider should he be elected president in November – and should a vacancy arise on the bench, according to Reuters’ David Ingram.

At the top of conservatives’ wish list is former Solicitor General Paul Clement, now a partner at Bancroft where he is handling blockbuster cases such as the challenge to the health care law and GOP lawmakers’ defense of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“He’s the type of person who fits the mold that the governor has pledged to look for,” said Mary Ann Glendon, a co-chairwoman of Romney’s Justice Advisory Committee, who stressed that “it’s much too soon to speculate about names.”

Other names on the GOP’s reported dream list are D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, 7th Circuit judge Diane Sykes, 8th Circuit Judge Steven Colloton, 10th Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch, and 6th Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton – though Sutton famously voted to uphold the federal health care law, which Romney opposes.

Santorum outlines judicial plan, calls Gingrich’s ‘a step too far’

Newt Gingrich isn’t the only GOP presidential candidate with plans to revamp the judiciary.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum talked about his plans for federal courts last week. Among his ideas: abolishing some federal courts and taking other measures to rein in the judiciary.

“The third branch of government is in fact too powerful in the structure of government today with respect to checks and balances,” Santorum told a New Hampshire crowd, according to the National Journal. “They have become a super legislature. They have become in effect most powerful of the three [branches of government], and they should be the least.”

Although Santorum said his ideas fall to the right of that of most Republicans – he would, among other things, do away with the 9th Circuit entirely – he said he believed Gingrich’s plan to subpoena and arrest judges and bring them before Congress to explain rulings adverse to the White House  goes a “step too far.”

Brown blasts Gingrich’s judiciary plan

If the goal of presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was to get people talking about ideas on the federal judiciary, he succeeded! Gingrich’s plan, which would include ignoring the Supreme Court and having judges subpoenaed, arrested and hauled before Congress, has drawn much ire. Gingrich’s latest critic – fellow Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who called Gingrich’s comments “disturbing.”

“If a president and majorities in Congress could simply overturn the constitutional interpretations of the Court, and if judges could be arrested for displeasing politicians in the other two branches, we would be placing our basic rights in jeopardy,” Brown wrote in a recent Boston Globe op-ed. The rule of law would be destroyed.

Brown warned that voters may not be soon keen on Gingrich’s ideas either.

“An independent judiciary is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Brown wrote. “That Gingrich would make the courts tremble at the thought of retaliation from the president or whatever political party has the majority at the time is a very dangerous notion that threatens the founding principles of our government. If the former speaker doesn’t publicly disavow these views, the voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere will disavow his views on this issue.”

O’Connor: Judicial elections bad for business (access required)

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been a vocal opponent of judicial elections, is touting a new reason why she believes judges should be appointed, not elected. It’s good for business, she said.

As some states ponder scrapping judicial elections for a merit-based appointment system, O’Connor said she recently talked to Iowa business officials, who said the merit-based system was working well there.

“Both the unions and the business sector were together on the value and health of the merit system” for judicial appointments in Iowa, O’Connor told The Las Vegas Sun. “They were absolutely sold, and you don’t see that often. They were that way in Arizona, and I anticipate they are that way here.”

In a merit-based system, the governor would choose judges from a list of finalists recommended by a judicial selection committee. Once seated, voters decide whether judges keep their seats.

Such a system would keep the influence of campaign cash out of the judicial selection process, proponents say.

“Businesses believe, as I do, that when you go to court to have an issue resolved, that it be resolved by the people who are qualified, fair and independent,” O’Connor said. “You don’t want them there because money that has been spent on them. You can understand why the business community would feel that way. You don’t want to run the risk of having somebody who is committed to some point of view by virtue of some campaign contribution.”

GOP uses Kagan as election fund-raiser

Last year, Senate Republicans took their time in revealing how they intended to vote on then-Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

But this year, GOP senators are coming out early with vocal opposition to the nomination of Elena Kagan to the nation’s top court. And the difference is less about the nominees and more about the calendar: it’s election time.

GOP lawmakers are making their case against Kagan in order to drum up campaign support and cash at a time when the president is suffering from low popularity numbers, according to this piece by the Associated Press’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

“What you’re seeing is where there are senators and candidates who are closest to the people – those senators and candidates who are in election races or up for election – they’re the ones that are coming out most strongly against Kagan,” said Gary Marx of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, a group urging Republicans and Democrats from states with contested elections to oppose the candidate.

Kagan’s chances of confirmation are all but certain, but Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans yesterday delayed the vote on the candidate for one week, as committee rules allow.

Today at the Supreme Court: Hillary and habeas

ussc1Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a man convicted of first degree murder failed to establish a habeas claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on his attorney’s advice to abandon an insanity plea. The opinion in Knowles v. Mirzayance can be found here on the Court’s website.

hillaryAlso today the Court heard oral arguments in a case testing whether a Hillary Clinton documentary – a created to air during her presidential primary bid last year – was subject to McCain-Feingold campaign finance disclosure rules in the case Citizens United v. FEC. More on that case here.

Friday morning briefing: Budget, taxation and representation

capitolfrontPresident Barack Obama unveiled his budget proposal this week, sending folks in the capital in numbers-crunching mode as they scrutinize the plan in search of the administration’s priorities. On Capitol Hill, a bill that would give bankruptcy judges the power to change the terms of mortgages in foreclosure proceedings hit a snag when Democratic lawmakers couldn’t quite hammer out all the details yesterday. Across the street, the Supreme Court justices conference today, and may serve up some fresh new grants of certiorari before the day is over.


‘Loaded’ voting bill passes: The Senate approved a bill to give the District of Columbia a seat in the House of Representatives. But the bill included an amendment that D.C. officials may not like too much: it repeals the District’s post-Heller gun restriction laws. (DCist, WaPo)

stevenssmileSeparation of powers: Justice John Paul Stevens doesn’t think Supreme Court justices should take their oaths in the White House. The practice, which has become popular with the most recent new justices, creates “incorrect symbolism” for the independent judicial branch, Stevens said. (AP)

State secrets in foreclosure crisis: The housing foreclosure crisis that has put millions of Americans out of their homes is being worsened by old, antiquated state laws that give homeowners far fewer legal protections than renters or credit card customers, according a new report from the National Consumer Law Center. (Lawyers USA)

Stimulating conversation: The recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contains several new tax credits and changes for both business and individual taxpayers. Most of the credits, however, are subject to income phase-outs. (Lawyers USA)

Short-term gains: Federal judges could get a pay post this year. Next year, not so much. (Legal Times)

DC Dicta’s greatest hits of 2008

With 2008 almost in the history books, it’s a good time to take a look back at the most popular posts of the year here at DC Dicta. Looking back, the hottest items on the blog revolved around presidential campaign moments, Supreme Court shenanigans, celebrity testimony on the Hill, and the beleaguered Justice Department. Let’s count them down:

10. Mukasey: ‘Not every violation of the law is a crime’

mukaseyagComments made by Attorney General Michael Mukasey in August – particularly the quote: “Not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime” – circulated around the blogosphere and ultimately became a catchphrase to represent the problems plaguing the Justice Department in recent years.

9. The Funniest Justice: Antonin Scalia

scaliasideNo one leaves ’em laughing in the courtroom like Justice Antonin Scalia, who handily won the title of Funniest Justice for the October 2007 term.

8. Kennedy winks in EEOC’s direction?

kennedy2After January oral arguments in Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC, this post noted that Justice Anthony “Swing Vote” Kennedy seemed to indicate pretty clearly that he believed the retirement benefits system in question discriminated on the basis of age – just as the EEOC contended. Although he did go on to find the program discriminatory, he was in the Court’s minority, writing the dissent in a case that did not at all adhere to the Court’s usual conservative vs. liberal breakdown. (Scalia and Ginsburg joined Kennedy’s dissent – when does that every happen?)

7. Actor to lawmakers: Let patients bring pharma suits

quaidMr. (Dennis) Quaid went to Washington. The actor, whose newborn twin daughters were accidentally given a nearly-lethal dose of the drug herapin, told lawmakers in May that without the right to sue pharmaceutical companies, consumers will become “uninformed and uncompensated lab rats.”

6. U.S. News law school rankings leaked!

When the folks at Above The Law put up a document showing the 2009 U.S. News & World Report law school rankings a few days before they were published in March, we sent you there.

5. McCain’s switch on Souter; Obama: Thomas isn’t too bright

thomas2Ah, remember that video of then presidential candidate Barack Obama basically saying Justice Clarence Thomas wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer? Of course you do! Many of you watched it right here in August.

4. Biden calls Court a Supreme campaign issue

bidenDuring the campaign season, now Vice President-elect Joe Biden was one of the most frequently searched subjects leading to DC Dicta. When he talked about the importance of the election in terms of potential Supreme Court nominees in August, the related post was one of the most popular blog items for weeks afterwards.

3. Cover blown off Chief Justice’s school visit

robertssmallWho knew Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. was so popular? Well, he obviously does – since he tried to clandestinely visit a local high school in March for a talk with students. But somehow word got out, newspaper reporters were there waiting for him, and DC Dicta readers wanted to know all about it.

2. 400 requests for reduced crack sentences in two days

crackWhen new reduced federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses, approved last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, went into effect retroactively in March, one day later more than 400 court orders from around the country slashing prison terms had been processed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

And the most hit blog post of the year (drumroll, please!):

1. High court denies Enron investors’ petition

enronThis Jan. 22 post noted that the Supreme Court, on the heels of its decision in Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific-Atlanta Inc., denied a petition by Enron investors seeking to pursue similar claims against bankers from firms including Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse Group. The move ended the investors’ actions claiming the bank companies colluded with Enron officials’ fraud.