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Scalia’s ‘weird hat’ steals show at inauguration

Four years ago, singer Aretha Franklin’s hat was a surprise star at President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony. But this year, the media and Twitterverse were mesmerized by another headpiece: the skullcap of Justice Antonin G. Scalia.

The peaked hat was lampooned on the internet. The New York Daily News described it as “a velvety cap that looked like a beret on steroids.” Folks on Twitter called it everything from a “Vatican Palace Guard’s hat” to a headpiece of a “mad medieval monk.” Even Sen. Claire McCaskill got in on the ribbing, Tweeting pictures (like the one above) of Scalia with snarky comments and the hashtag #Scaliaweirdhat. (To be fair, the senator also goofed on “Breyer’s scaliawannabe hat, Kennedy’s stocking cap” and “Alito in the shades.”)

But it turns out that Scalia’s outfit choice was grounded in tradition. The National Law Journal’s Tony Mauro notes that the black cornered skullcaps have been worn by justices at cold-weather outdoor events for decades, though they’ve fallen in and out of favor over the years. Scalia apparently takes his history quite seriously: law professor Kevin C. Walsh explains that the item Scalia wore yesterday was a custom-made replica of the hat depicted in a famous portrait of St. Thomas More, and was a gift to the justice from the St. Thomas More Society of Richmond.

Monday status conference: Clinton on Kagan

Picture it: the White House, 1995.

A cadre of economic advisors had advised President Bill Clinton against vetoing a bill aimed at stopping frivolous securities fraud lawsuits. Clinton asked the advice of his new legal adviser, Elena Kagan.

She analyzed the legislation and came to the conclusion that the bill would not only halt frivolous suits, but also meritorious securities fraud actions by shareholders. Bucking the economic team, she recommended that the president veto the measure.

“There she was, in her mid-30s starting out in her career, with the entire economic team, all of them against her position, and she knew it,” Clinton told The New York Times last week, recalling Kagan’s first White House presentation. “She stood there and defended her conclusion. It was very impressive. She was composed, direct and totally unfazed that all those guys wanted a different outcome.”

Clinton’s comments came as lawmakers and the media pored over emails from Kagan’s White House tenure released by Clinton’s presidential library on Friday. Now most of the 160,000 pages of documents identified by the library on the Supreme Court nominee have been released. And Kagan has emerged, for the most part, unscathed from the scrutiny one week before her confirmation hearings are set to begin.

And that, according to the Associated Press, was by design. Obama administration officials, working with Clinton, have worked to ensure that Kagan’s involvement with more controversial issues that could provide fodder for critics of her nomination remain shaded from public view. Those sensitive subjects include the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit that led to Clinton’s impeachment.

Meanwhile, the current justices of the Supreme Court are set to release more opinions this morning. Among the issues yet to be decided this term is whether public and private officials can face criminal action for depriving their “honest services” to the public or to their employers. We’ll update newsworthy developments here later this morning.

In other news,

Emanuel out? The London Daily Telegraph reports that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is expected to leave his job after the midterm elections because he is fed up with the “idealism” of President Barack Obama’s closest advisers. (Fox News)

Too soon to say the f-word: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said it’s still too soon to say whether Republicans might try to filibuster Kagan’s nomination. (AP)

Slow claims process: BP has paid less than 12 percent of claims submitted by individuals and businesses for damage caused the Gulf oil spill, according to the House Judiciary Committee. (AP)

K Street help for BP: Meanwhile, the company is enlisting the help of a high-priced lobbyists and consultants to help weather the firestorm over the massive spill. (Washington Post)

Trial lawyers’ group responds to president’s address on oil spill

Last night President Barack Obama gave his first televised address from the Oval office, vowing to hold BP fully responsible for the ongoing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We will make BP pay for the damage that it has caused,” Obama said in the address.

Obama said he is meeting today with BP’s chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, to direct him to “set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness.  And this fund will not be controlled by BP.  In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent third party.”

In response, Anthony Tarricone, president of the trial lawyers’ group the American Association for Justice, said that while such a plan “may quickly and fairly compensate” some victims, others must be allowed to seek recourse in the courts.

“Many questions need to be answered before such a compensation program is formed, and we will be asking them over the days and weeks to come,” Tarricone said in a statement after Obama’s address.  “Ultimately, a claims process must ensure Gulf Coast residents and businesses can be fully compensated, preserve access to the civil justice system, and hold BP and other corporations accountable for their wrongdoing.”

Tarricone said some key questions remain on issues, such as how the value of claims will be decided, whether claimants have access to courts if the compensation efforts are insufficient, and whether BO will be sufficiently punished for wrongdoing.

UPDATE: Following the meeting with Obama, BP executives have agreed to establish a $20 billion fund to satisfy claims over the next three and a half years. “The fund does not represent a cap on BP liabilities, but will be available to satisfy legitimate claims,” BP’s statement reads in part.

Friday morning docket: Shortlist buzz

Time for an end-of-the-week look at the latest buzz about the next Supreme Court justice.

The short of it: According to reports, Solicitor General Elena Kagan is still at the top of the White House’s shortlist to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, although that list has grown in 10 people.

This week CBS News’s Jan Crawford named the people on that shortlist – although, she notes, “chances are slim that an elected official – someone who’s been through the rough-and-tumble world of politics – will get the nod.”

Meanwhile, there is a small but vocal contingent lining up against one member of that list – U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland, reports the Washington Post. Yet unlike other nominees, it’s not conservatives who are complaining about Garland, but rather activists on the left.

Meanwhile, liberal supporters of 7th Circuit Judge Diane Wood are pushing back against conservatives who have voiced opposition to her being named to the High Court, reports the Atlantic.

And Yesterday President Obama wrapped up discussions about the confirmation process with all 12 Democrats and all 7 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the New York Times reports. White House officials said the president will meet with more members of the Senate in the coming days.

In other news:

Praying to a higher court: The Obama administration plans to appeal a ruling declaring the National Day of Prayer constitutional. (AP)

Eight is enough? Do we even need nine justices? We’ve gotten by with fewer in the past. (Christian Science Monitor)

‘Reality’ High Court? What would a “reality” Supreme Court justice look like? The Boston Herald’s Lauren Beckham Falcone imagines: “‘Crush videos? Even I’m not that mean,’ sniffs ‘American Idol’s’ Simon Cowell as he downs another flute of champagne.” (Boston Herald)

Monday status conference: Return of the Supremes

The US. Supreme Court resumes oral arguments today with two high-profile cases.

First the justice will take up whether a public university law school can deny funding and recognition to a religious student organization that bans non-religious and gay students from its membership in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.

Then the justices take up City of Ontario v. Quon, a case considering whether employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the text messages they send using electronic devices supplied by their employer. The case could have wide-ranging implications affecting how employees use the cell phones, laptop computers and other equipment given to them to use on the job.

More on these arguments, as well as any newsworthy orders today from the Court, later on this blog and on Lawyers USA online.

Meanwhile, in other news:

Scalia speaks: During the Court’s latest recess, several justices took to the lecture circuit. Justice Scalia spoke Friday at the University of Virginia, where he used to be a law professor, and discussed – wait for it – originalism.  (Charlottesville Daily Progress)

Breyer’s prediction: Meanwhile, while testifying last week along with Justice Clarence Thomas before Congress, Justice Stephen Breyer predicted that the new health care reform law would probably end up before the Supreme Court for review. (AP)

Not ready for a close-up: Would you like to see Supreme Court proceedings televised? Don’t hold your breath, Breyer said. (Washington Post)

The absent justice? If Solicitor General Elena Kagan becomes a Supreme Court justice this summer, she may have to recuse herself from a host of cases being considered by the Court. Might that harm her chances of getting President Obama’s nod? (SCOTUSblog)

New issue in NLRB case: The Supreme Court asked the attorneys for the parties in the case testing the authority of the former two-member National Labor Relations Board to file supplemental briefs on the effect of the two recent appointments. (SCOTUSblog)

Clinton‘s SCOTUS advice: Former President Bill Clinton thinks President Obama should pick a young non-judge to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. And neither he nor his wife fit the bill, he added. (AP)

President, senators to chat about Supreme vacancy

The White House has announced that President Obama will meet net week with Democratic and Republican Senate leaders to discuss the replacement of Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court.

On April 21, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Minority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky., Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking Republican committee member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., will meet with Obama at the White House.

Meanwhile, as the most oft-mentioned contenders continue to be Solicitor General Elena Kagan and federal Judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland, the total list of candidates being considered by Obama is about 10 long. And some Senate Democrats are hoping for a nominee who comes from outside the Ivy League or the federal judiciary.

Citizens United showed that when you get someone who’s too ethereal, they miss the practical,” said New York Democrat Sen. Charles E. Schumer to the Washington Post, speaking of the controversial campaign finance ruling that lifted some campaign spending limits on corporations. “If you’ve had practical experience on the ground, in this case in politics, you know how destructive that can be.” Currently Stevens is the only justice not to attend an Ivy League law school.

Monday status conference: Battle of the branches

It seems like no-one is getting along here in Washington. The drama demonstrated between members of Congress, the Supreme Court and the White House shows no signs of abating.

Before lawmakers and White House officials went on the Sunday talk shows to blast each other, President Barack Obama himself tussled with GOP lawmakers in a rare, face-to-face televised confrontation.

President Obama had been invited to a Republican gathering in Baltimore in an effort to show that both parties were ready to cooperate. But, the Associated Press reports, it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, Obama and GOP members including House Republican leader John Boehner exchanged point-by-point barbs with one another.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are still steaming over Justice Samuel Alito’s visible dismay during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said Alito’s behavior “crossed the line,” and accused Alito and Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. of misleading the Senate during their confirmation hearings.

“You bet they misled,” Durbin told Politico, saying the decision in Citizens United v. FEC contradicted the justices promise to uphold precedent. The ruling overturned a 2003 decision with upheld portions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that Citizens United struck down.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused Roberts of judicial activism, telling Politico: “He’s not somebody who just measures balls and strikes. It’s been the most activist court that I’ve seen in my 17 years in the committee.”

But Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl disagreed. “I really believe that an injustice was done to the First Amendment and political speech in the earlier decision,” Kyl said. “I don’t think that’s activism.”

In other news:

Budget day! Obama releases his $3.8 trillion budget today. (Washington Post)

Feds issue Chinese drywall guidance: A group of federal agencies has issued guidelines designed to help homeowners identify potentially problematic drywall in their homes. (Lawyers USA)

Why Briscoe went bust: It looked like a potential blockbuster. But the forensic lab testimony case that started out with a roar ended Monday with a whimper. So what happened? (Lawyers USA)

Taking some heat off corporations? The U.S. Sentencing Commission has proposed reducing the criminal penalties corporations may face for their employees’ actions. (WSJ’s Law Blog)

Supreme Court Justice Michelle Obama? Odds (and law) against her

It comes as no surprise that odds makers have already calculated who they think President Barack Obama will choose to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. But for the mini-movement pushing for the president to turn to his wife for the job, there is bad news.

That’s because Michelle Obama’s odds for being chosen for the high court are a miniscule 500-1, according to Irish gambling website Paddy Power (via FoxNews.com). The Harvard Law School graduate, who practiced law in Illinois, also has another hurdle: a federal law banning nepotism picks. So don’t expect a FLOTUS-to-SCOTUS story, folks.

Who will be the next justice? According to the site, 2nd Circuit Justice Sonia Sotomayor has the best chances at 13-8. Close behind her is 7th Circuit Judge Diane Wood with 2-1 odds.

The man with the best shot at the job, according to the site, is D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland. But he still faces fairly long odds 12-1.

What about that speculation back during the campaign that Hillary Clinton might get the Supreme nod from Obama? Not so, according to the odds makers, which peg her chances at around 100-1.

AAJ CEO stepping down

This week Jon Haber, CEO of the American Association for Justice, the country’s largest trial lawyers group, announced he is stepping down.

Haber, who has held the position for four years, said that the time was right for a change at the top, given the current “pro-civil justice President and Congress.”

“Because we are in such a strong position, I have decided this is the best time for me to step down to take on new challenges,” Haber said in a statement.  “The new pro-civil justice environment has put the organization in the strongest position it has been in a generation.  This time period also presents opportunities for those seeking the next challenge in their careers when it comes to fighting for justice and progressive values.  I am considering several very promising opportunities.”

Attorney bloggers on InjuryBoard.com had praise for Haber’s work. “He brought the AAJ into the current century by updating its use of technology and making it appreciate what needed to be done to better advocate the ‘People Over Profits’ philosophy of the organization,” wrote attorney Mike Schneider.

Mike Bryant added: “Jon was the leader in bringing the organization into the advanced technical world. As an organization of and for plaintiff lawyers it is a hard fought battle with insurance, pharmaceutical, and big business interests.”

No word yet on who Haber’s replacement will be.

Friday morning docket: Blossoms and buzz

cherryblossomsjeffersonWith the cherry blossoms in full bloom here, the members of the three branches of government are, fittingly, busy as bees.

After a busy week of decisions, non-decisions and oral arguments, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are back at work this morning, holding a private conference. That means orders – including possible new cert grants, could be forthcoming, and we’ll bring you newsworthy updates here.

Across the street from the Supremes, Congress has been hard at work tackling issues like the budget, health care and tobacco regulation.

And though President Barack Obama spent most the week in Europe meeting with world leaders, the multitasker also unveiled his first federal appellate judge nominations, naming picks for some vacancies on the 2nd and 4th Circuits.


Do over in Alaska? After federal prosecutors moved this week to toss a conviction handed down against former Sen. Ted Stevens, who lost his seat in November, Republicans want a new election. (NYT)

Credential check: After a convicted felon with no law degree managed to pose as an attorney and represent clients in 16 cases in 10 different federal courts, the Judicial Conference has set a new policy requiring courts to more carefully check attorneys’ credentials. (Lawyers USA)

Ice cold COLA: Federal judges, including the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, will get a 2.8 percent cost-of-living-adjustment for 2009 under the recently enacted Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009. (Lawyers USA)

Lending crackdown: A bill that would impose tougher standards governing mortgage lending in an effort to stamp out predatory practices was filed in the House.  (Lawyers USA)

Bad assist: Assisted living lawsuits are mounting, and plaintiffs’ lawyers say poorly trained staff and lax regulations are to blame for incidents of abuse and neglect of residents. (Lawyers USA)