Confirmation battles loom over D.C. Circuit

Setting the stage for what could be the biggest judicial confirmation battles since his Supreme Court picks went before the Senate, President Barack Obama made three nominations to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C. – considered by most to be the second most powerful court in the country.

And with his nominations of attorney Patricia Ann Millett, U. S. District Court Judge Robert Leon Wilkins and Georgetown law professor Cornelia Pillard, Obama warned members of the Senate not to use stalling tactics or block the nominees.

“Chief Justice John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the highest court in the land, and former member of the D.C. Circuit Court says they need 11 judges,” Obama said yesterday in announcing the nominees.  “So it’s important we don’t play games here, and it’s important that we cut through the verbiage.”

The president also blasted a GOP proposal to reduce the number of judges on the court, which has long been one of the most fertile source of Supreme Court justices. Four of the nine current justices are former D.C. Circuit judges.

“When a Republican was President, 11 judges on the D.C. Circuit Court made complete sense.  Now that a Democrat is President, it apparently doesn’t.  Eight is suddenly enough,” Obama said, drawing chuckles from the crowd gathered in the White House lawn.  “People are laughing because it’s obviously a blatant political move.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, blasted what he called an attempt by the president to pack the appellate court for political gain. “It’s hard to imagine the rationale for nominating three judges at once for this court given the many vacant emergency seats across the country, unless your goal is to pack the court to advance a certain policy agenda,” said Grassley.  “No matter how you slice it, the D.C. Circuit ranks last or almost last in nearly every category that measures workload.”


It’s that time of year: Kennedy watching season

The weather is warm, barbecue grills have already been fired up, and schools are recessing for summer. Which means it’s the time of year to start watching the U.S. Supreme Court to see what Justice Anthony M. Kennedy will do.

Not only do the justices tend to save the biggest decisions for the final weeks before the court’s term wraps at the end of June, most of those rulings divide the justices — often 5-4. This year, we are expecting blockbuster rulings on issues including same-sex marriage, affirmative action, voting rights, DNA evidence collection and human gene patentability, and Kennedy — known as the court’s swing voter — may once again be the ultimate decider.

So what will he do? Only the justices know for sure at this point, but Time Magazine’s Massimo Calabresi pointed out that Kennedy has demonstrated in the past that he “likes to be on the right side of history.”

But, he said, “[a]s court watchers learn every June, however, it’s futile to try and guess how Kennedy will come down.”

Heard in Ginsburg’s chambers: “I do”

Though the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are quite busy during the late spring months drafting the last opinions of the term, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took a little time out to conduct another ceremony this weekend.

The justice served as wedding officiant to Morgan Deann Ortagus and Jonathan Ross Weinberger, who tied the knot in the justice’s chambers at the Supreme Court Saturday, according to the New York Times. More here.

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.

Roberts offers age-old advice on oral arguments

Sometimes a piece of good advice can last through the ages, and at an event last week in western New York State, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. offered an oral advocacy tip from the late Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson: flattery will get you nowhere.

In a speech commemorating the 10th anniversary of the centering honoring the late justice, who was also the chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, Roberts pointed out that Jackson loved oral advocacy – but often admonished lawyers not to try to butter up the members of the court.

“He noted that we justices think well enough of ourselves already,” Roberts said, according to the Buffalo News. “Now, I will have to leave it to others to decide whether that’s changed since Justice Jackson’s time.”

Roberts, like Jackson, hails from the western region of New York State.

Scalia sticks his footnote in it

We can add another item to the growing list of Justice Antonin G. Scalia’s least favorite things: inexplicable acronyms.

In his opinion yesterday in Arlington v. FCC, Scalia was apparently peeved by the name of the wireless service provider trade group CTIA—The Wireless Association. The justice explains in a footnote:

“This is not a typographical error. CTIA—The Wireless Association was the name of the petitioner. CTIA is presumably an (unpronounceable) acronym, but even the organization’s website does not say what it stands for. That secret, known only to wireless-service-provider insiders, we will not disclose here.”

The organization later took to its Twitter account to politely point out Scalia’s apparent error (and his law clerks’ apparent lack of Google prowess): “CTIA isn’t an acronym. Our registered trademark name is CTIA-The Wireless Association,” the group tweeted, linking to a web page that explained that the letters once stood for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. Now, the name is merely an “orphan acronym.”

The whole matter irked Temple Law Prof. David Post, who took to the Volokh Conspiracy to call Scalia’s footnote: “a really embarrassing bit of nonsense — smarmy and snarky and extraordinarily stupid.”

On the WSJ’s Law Blog, Jacob Gershman points out: “Technically, CTIA is an initialism, not an acronym.” So there you have it.



Music to the justices’ ears

This is the busy season at the U.S. Supreme Court: the frenzied weeks after the conclusion of oral arguments in April and before the close of the term at the end of June. So you can’t blame the justices for needing to take a little musical interlude every now and again.

Earlier this week, the justices took a break from drafting decisions to enjoy the court’s spring musicale, a private concert for the justices and their guests in the East Conference Room of the courthouse. The Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin has the details of the event, which included Broadway singer Barbara Cook performing John Lennon’s “Imagine” — which Bravin noted is “strikingly at odds with court precedents granting privileges to religious institutions, enshrining property rights and limiting the reach of international law.” Imagine all the people sharing all the world, indeed!

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, organizer of the spring concert, also took part in another musical event in Chicago. The justice was on hand for the celebration of the centennial anniversaries of DePaul University’s Driehaus College of Business, College of Law and School of Music, which featured performances that examined the role of law in operatic compositions.

Ginsburg noted that in general, lawyers and judges “fare rather badly in operatic works.”


Will Jolie’s announcement affect SCOTUS gene ruling? Probably not

What is Angelina Jolie’s connection to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Earlier this week the actress revealed that she underwent a preventative double mastectomy after she tested positive for a gene that indicates an increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer. That gene is one of those at issue in the Supreme Court case Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics Inc. A decision in that case, which considers if human genes are patentable, is expected late next month.

USA Today’s Richard Wolf writes that it’s unclear how much – if at all – news reports sway the decision of the justices since the members of the court meet privately to discuss and vote on pending cases.  But it’s worth noting that justices generally vote on cases a few days after oral arguments, and the gene patent case was heard last month. Absent a late change of heart (and vote) by one of the justices, the case likely has already been decided, and the opinion and possible dissents and concurrences were already being drafted long before Jolie’s announcement.

Supreme Court more diverse than Supreme Court bar

The U.S. Supreme Court is more diverse than ever. But the same can’t be said for the group of attorneys who argued before the justices this term.

According to a report by the AP’s Mark Sherman, only one black attorney argued before the U.S. Supreme Court this term – taking up only 11 minutes of the 75 hours of oral arguments that the justices heard. Only four Hispanic attorneys made their case before the court.

Also, women made up only 17 percent of the lawyers appearing before the Supreme Court this year.

“In an era when three women, a Hispanic and an African-American sit on the court and white men constitute a bare majority of the nine justices, the court is more diverse than the lawyers who argue before it,” Sherman wrote. More here.

Poll: TV judge more trusted than Supremes

The most trusted judge in America does not sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. She presides over a television soundstage.

Television star Judge Judy ranked highest among judges in Reader’s Digest’s survey of the most trusted people in America, ranking 28th on the magazine’s top 100 List. She edged out the most trusted justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who came in 36th on the list.

The least trusted justice still made the top 100; Justice Clarence Thomas came in 88th in the poll.

HT: ABA Journal