Tag Archives: U.S. Supreme Court

Sotomayor on getting over her ‘reflexive terror’

Becoming a Supreme Court justice is, no doubt, very cool. But it is also petrifying – at least in the beginning, admits Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor.

“The first year that I face the challenges of any new environment has always been a time of fevered insecurity, a reflexive terror that I’ll fall flat on my face,” Sotomayor told PBS’s Gwen Ifill Wednesday, according to a transcript from Federal News Service (a sister company to Lawyers USA).

How did she get over the insecurity? By working hard “with compulsive intensity and single-mindedness until I gradually feel more confident,” she said. And by taking the advice of those who had been there.

“We’re not born anything,” she explained. “We’re not born a lawyer; we’re not born a judge; we’re certainly not born a justice, which is something that Justice John Paul Stevens reminded me during my first year on the bench one day, when I was actually disclosing to him how anxiety-ridden I was about being a justice. And he just touched upon a reality for me. He said, Sonia, none of us is born a justice. We grow into becoming one.”


Sotomayor thought Obama was ‘crazy’ to nominate her

Continuing to make the media rounds to promote her memoir, Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor told Oprah Winfrey that she was shocked to ever be nominated to the Supreme Court.

“I thought he was crazy,” Sotomayor said of President Barack Obama in an interview with Winfrey for O Magazine. “No, seriously—I am not a betting woman, but I kept telling my friends, ‘He’s never gonna pick me.’ Not in a million years. I’m very rational, and I’m another New Yorker—at the time there were a few others—and I’d had a very contentious nomination to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. I couldn’t figure out why he’d elect to go into a battle over me. And so I was in total disbelief when I was called that day.”

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.

Roberts and Sotomayor deliver, Obama flubs slightly

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered the oath of office to President Barack Obama this past inaugural weekend – twice – before a national audience. And this time, unlike in 2009, he did it without incident.

The Supreme Court chief, known for his memorization skills as an appellate advocate, famously flubbed the oath the first time he swore in Obama four years ago. This weekend – both in the private official swearing in ceremony at the White House on Sunday and then again on the steps of the Capitol building on Monday – Roberts played it safe by reading the 35-word oath from a cue card.

Still, the pressure got to Obama: he stumbled over the word “States.” But he’s still the president.

Sonia Sotomayor administered the much longer oath of office to President Biden twice – once in a private ceremony at the Naval Observatory, then again at Monday’s Capitol affair – over  the long weekend as well, making her first Hispanic justice to do so.

Learn more about the justices – including the reason why Sotomayor’s robe looks different than those of her eight colleagues – on our Supreme Court Report.

The Funniest Justice, week 7: A funny direction

During oral arguments yesterday in a case to determine if lawyers violated federal privacy laws by using driving records to look for potential class action clients, Justice Stephen G. Breyer tried to draw a line between proper and improper conduct.

“What I’m trying to get at is the statement that I could write in an opinion that will draw the boundary of this provision [that will] help your client because they will cover this case, but will also be south of that,” Breyer said.

Clearly such wording left Justice Antonin G. Scalia lost.

“What is south? I don’t have a compass here.” Scalia said, drawing laughs.

That was one of four humorous quips Scalia made this week, making him the week’s funniest justices and helping him to pad his lead so far on this term’s ongoing tally:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 16

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 10

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.:6

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 3

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 3

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 0

Contraceptives challenge now before Supreme Court

The challenge over a provision of the federal health care law that requires most employers to provide health insurance coverage for emergency contraceptives for their employees has landed before the U.S. Supreme Court.

SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston reports that two employers – companies privately owned by individuals who object to such coverage for religious reasons – have asked the Court to rule on their challenge to the law on the basis that it interferes with their First Amendment-protected religious freedoms. The application in the case Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius asks the justices to weigh in before a federal appeals court rules, and is before Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor. The justice may act on the petition alone or refer it to the full Court for consideration.

The challenge is one of a series of lawsuits that have been filed across the country over the contraception provision of the law.

UPDATE: Sotomayor rejected the request for an emergency injunction blocking enforcement of the law, but did not rule on the merits of the case.

Scalia draws parallels – and media attention

Justice Antonin G. Scalia is drawing a lot of media attention for comments he made this week as the Supreme Court prepares to hear two same-sex marriage law challenges.

During an appearance at Princeton University Monday, Scalia was asked by a gay student why he compares laws barring sodomy to those barring bestiality.

Scalia replied that he has drawn parallels, not comparisons, to make a point. “I don’t think it’s necessary, but I think it’s effective,” Scalia said according to several news organizations including CBS News. “It’s a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the ‘reduction to the absurd. If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”

The comments are drawing wide attention as they come just days after the Court agreed to consider the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act as well as California’s voter-instituted law barring recognition of same-sex marriage in that state.

The Funniest Justice, week 6: International laughter

During oral arguments Wednesday in the case Chafin v. Chafin, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wanted to know whether a Scottish court, in determining someone’s habitual residence, would consider a U.S. court decision.

“I think they would pay attention to what other courts have said,” Breyer said. “Am I right or wrong? I want to know if I’m right or wrong.”

But instead of the arguing attorney giving him an answer, his colleague did.

“We have a brief in the case telling us that the question Justice Breyer is posing,” Ginsburg said. “They would say it’s irrelevant.”

“They would?” Breyer said.

“Justice Ginsburg, that is correct,” attorney Stephen Cullen finally said.

Well, thank for Justice Ginsburg’s answer,” Breyer replied. “She is very helpful.”

Breyer was the top laugh earner this week, adding three chuckles to his score in our ongoing tally of the term’s Funniest Justice. Justice Antonin G. Scalia earned two laughs to hold onto his solid lead in the race, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. made the crowd giggle once.

Here is the full tally for the term so far:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 12

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 8

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.: 5

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 3

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 3

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 0


The Funniest Justice, week 5: Humorous error

During oral arguments Wednesday in Henderson v. U.S., Justice Department attorney Jeffrey B. Wall cited Supreme Court precedent to make his case that plain error criminal appeals must be based on the law at the time of sentencing.

Johnson [v. U.S.] did nothing, either as a matter of its holding or its rationale, to say what the rule requires more generally in cases like this one, where a contemporaneous objection could have been ‘helpful to the district court,’” Wall argued.

Justice Antonin G. Scalia wasn’t persuaded.

“I joined Johnson, and maybe I have to repudiate it if it leads to that conclusion,” Scalia said.

“Justice Scalia, you did not join the relevant portion of Johnson,” Wall said.

“Oh, I didn’t?” Scalia said. “Thank God! It didn’t sound like me.”

That comment earned Scalia one of his four laughs of the week, making him this week’s funniest justice, and solidifying his lead on the term-long tally of courtroom chuckles. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. also made a funny this week.

Here is the tally for the term so far:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 10

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 5

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.: 4

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 3

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 3

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 0

‘Disingenuous’ assertion miffs chief justice (access required)

A lesson for the lawyers over at the U.S. solicitor general’s office: it’s best to be honest and forthcoming about the reason for a change in the government’s position in a Supreme Court case.

A Justice Department attorney learned that lesson the hard way Tuesday when Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. upbraided him during oral arguments for an assertion made in the government’s amicus brief. Read More »