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Justices will wrap the term by June, then jet off

If you were wondering whether to put off your Fourth of July travel plans for fear that you will miss the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the health care law case  or in the Arizona immigration law challenge, fear not.

The justices will almost surely wrap up the term, pending blockbuster cases included, by the end of June – the Court’s traditional conclusion time frame. That’s because, according to the AP, the justices have planes to catch.

Several of the justices, who often accept teaching positions during the summers in exotic locales,  are set to begin professorial gigs the first week of July, the AP reports. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. will be jetting off to Malta. Justices Antonin G. Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are headed to Austria. Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. will be going to Italy.

More here from the AP, and more on all the latest news from the Supreme Court from Lawyers USA’s Supreme Court Report.

Scalia vs. Obama administration?

Justice Antonin G. Scalia is the U.S. Supreme Court most senior associate justice. But some say that during oral arguments he often assumes another role: chief antagonist to the Obama Administration.

When Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. or other attorneys from the Justice Department argue the federal government’s position at the Court, critics say, Scalia can usually be counted on to fire sharp questions. After the proffered answers are given, Scalia often dismisses them with one of his favorite expressions: “extraordinary!”

“His questions have been increasingly confrontational,” said Charles Fried, a Harvard Law School professor and former Reagan-era solicitor general told Bloomberg’s Greg Stohr.

Scalia’s opposition to the Obama Administration was particularly apparent during the recent marathon oral arguments in the health care case, some observers told Stohr.

“Someone who had just tuned into the health-care argument might get the impression that the court is a much more partisan institution than it actually is,” said David Strauss, a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago Law School.

And the Funniest Justice is…

He’s made cracks about bad dictionaries, deadpanned about deporting babies to China, and quipped that a justice’s job could at times violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

By making the audience and other justices of the Supreme Court laugh during oral arguments more than five dozen times, Justice Antonin G. Scalia sailed to an easy victory as this term’s Funniest Justice. Since DC Dicta began keeping count, Scalia is undefeated.

So the real race was for second place. And though Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. made a real contest of it, it was Justice Stephen G. Breyer who walked away with the silver this term, with Roberts coming in third.

According to the laugh count, as noted in the Court’s official transcripts, every justice earned at least one laugh this term except Justice Clarence Thomas, who hasn’t made a comment during oral arguments – humorous or otherwise – since Feb. 22, 2006. Let’s just hope that when he does speak, we’ll get a chuckle out of it.

Here is the final tally:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 63

Justice Stephen Breyer: 47

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 26

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 11

Justice Elena Kagan: 7

Justice Samuel Alito: 5

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

The Funniest Justice, week 13: Unquestionably funny

“I don’t want to repeat the question for the third time,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said during an exchange with attorney Carter G. Phillips during yesterday’s oral arguments in the case Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter.

“I wish you would,” said Justice Antonin G. Scalia to Breyer. “I’ve lost the question.”

As the audience laughed, Breyer retorted: “Well, here sometimes not everyone pays sufficient attention to these very clear questions.” More laughs.

The familiar Scalia & Breyer comedy act was in full effect at the court this week, but it was Breyer who was the week’s funniest justice, drawing five laughs during oral arguments in three cases. Scalia, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Justice Elena Kagan each scored two laughs.

Here’s the tally with only one week of oral arguments remaining in the term:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 61

Justice Stephen Breyer: 46

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 25

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 11

Justice Elena Kagan: 7

Justice Samuel Alito: 5

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Did Scalia hint at a health care law KO?

As several of the justices of the Supreme Court spent the off week attending events around the country, members of the media asked them obligatory questions about the pending challenge to the federal health care law, which was heard last week.

Justices usually demur when faced with such requests, refusing to make out-of-court statements on pending cases and sticking to other subjects, like antelope hunting.

But Justice Antonin Scalia took an interesting approach to not answering a question about President Barack Obama’s much discussed “judicial activism” comment, according to the AP (via the WSJ’s Law Blog):

“We don’t respond to criticism,” Scalia said in comments to students at the University of Southern Mississippi. “Judges use what’s known as the rope-a-dope trick. It’s judicial tradition.”

What is a “rope-a-dope,” you ask? Law Blog explains that it’s a boxing move used by Muhammad Ali, whereby a boxer leans against the ropes as his opponent pummels away. The shots that are not blocked are absorbed by the rope’s elasticity. Once the opponent is tired, the boxer has conserved enough energy to make a knockout punch.

So did Scalia suggest that he’d take Obama’s shots for now, only to come back with a ruling that knocks out the health care law? Only nine people know for sure – the justices took their initial vote on the case during a closed-door session last Friday.

The Funniest Justice, week 12: Cruel and unusual laughter

Wednesday, the last of three days of oral arguments on the federal health care reform law, Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler urged the Court to sever any portion of the law held unconstitutional from the rest of the statute.

“Mr. Kneedler, what happened to the Eighth Amendment? You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?”Justice Scalia asked, drawing loud laughter from the packed courtroom.

It was fitting that during such an historic week at the Court, Scalia would garner an unprecedented number of laughs: a whopping 15, easily earning him the title of the Funniest Justice of the week, and all but cementing his fourth consecutive title for the whole term.

There was apparently plenty to laugh at about the health care law and its individual mandate. In addition’s to Scalia’s comedic quips, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan each earned three laughs, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor each earned one.

With only two weeks to go, here are the standings for the term so far:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 59

Justice Stephen Breyer: 41

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 25

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 9

Justice Samuel Alito: 5

Justice Elena Kagan: 5

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Scalia: Court gave ‘guilty’ defendants right ‘escape a fair trial’

After the U.S. Supreme Court granted criminal defendants constitutional post-conviction rights to effective assistance to counsel in a pair of decisions Wednesday, Justice Antonin Scalia delivered a rare – and vocal – dissent from the bench, saying the “absurd” rulings stretch the Constitutional beyond its limits.

In the cases Martinez v. Ryan and Lafler v. Cooper, the Court held that, in some circumstances, defendants can get relief for ineffective assistance of counsel in post-conviction proceedings and during the plea bargaining stage if the bad advice from counsel leads to a more severe punishment than the prisoner would have received but for the poor legal guidance.

After Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored both majority opinions, announced the rulings from the bench Wednesday, Scalia launched into a lengthy and sharply-worded oral dissent, saying the rulings essentially give defendants a new constitutionally-protected “right to plea bargain” and “escape a fair trial.”

“The ultimate focus of any ineffective assistance case must be the fundamental fairness of the proceeding,” not the possibly more favorable result for the defendant, Scalia complained, noting that the defendants in both cases were “without a doubt both guilty, and have been judged so and sentenced.”

Though problems can arise during the post-trial phase, that’s an issue for lawmakers to address, Scalia said. “The Constitution is not a judicial cure-all for all of society’s problems,” Scalia said. “It is not wise; it is not right.”

Read more about this week’s ruling, the health care arguments on tap next week and lots of other Supreme Court news on the Supreme Court Report.

Scalia: For work-life balance, it’s hot in Cleveland … and LA

Justice Antonin Scalia doesn’t believe the life of a lawyer should be all work and no play.

“Try to find a practice that enables you to maintain a human existence, time for your family, your church or synagogue, community…Boy Scouts, Little League,” Scalia told law students at the University of Chicago on Monday, according to the Chicago Sun Times (via ABA Journal).

He said his own experience working in the Cleveland office of Jones Day provided the kind of work-life balance new lawyers should try to find.  “You should look for a place like that,” he said. “I’m sure they’re still out there. Maybe you have to go to Cleveland.”

Or maybe do some California dreamin’. “My son Gene went to Gibson Dunn,” he said. “Any big firm has the basic ethos of its head office and if the head office is in La La land, it’s gonna be a little laid back.”

Scalia: Courts flooded with ‘nickel and dime criminal cases’

There are problems with the nation’s federal court system. And according to Justice Antonin Scalia, one of those problems is a flood of petty criminal cases – better suited for state courts – that have turned the U.S. Supreme Court into a “court of criminal appeals.”

Federal courts are clogged with “nickel and dime criminal cases,” Scalia told attendees of an American Bar Association meeting in New Orleans on Saturday, according to the Associated Press. He called the situation “probably regrettable” and added that it doesn’t reflect “what the federal courts were set up for.”