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Federal government – including Supremes – closed as capital assesses damage

Today all federal government offices – the U.S. Supreme Court included – are closed except for essential personnel as local officials survey the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. The region’s public transit system remains closed and local officials report widespread reports of downed trees and power lines.

The Supreme Court will resume oral arguments tomorrow as scheduled. Arguments that were to be heard today will take place Thursday.

Kennedy draws laughs with talk of opera and beer

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy may not be one of the funniest Supreme Court justices during oral arguments, but he showed his funny side during a speech Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Kennedy recounted a story about a casual gathering of lawyers and other judges when he was an 11th Circuit judge. “I said, do you have any questions?” Kennedy said, according to a transcript of the event from Lawyers USA‘s sister company Federal News Service. “And somebody said, ‘how do you read all of those briefs, all that written material?’”

Kennedy replied that he read every brief, and would bring home briefs from the most difficult cases to reread while listening to opera. “I have one-opera and two-opera briefs,” Kennedy said, drawing laughter from the crowd. But after answering, Kennedy said he feared his talk of opera “came across as kind of highfalutin.”

“Here’s this guy talking about the opera, East Coast intellectual or trying to be one,” he said of himself, drawing more laughs. “I thought I kind of lost the audience, but a fellow raised his hand and said, ‘well, I have a rule like that when I write those briefs.’

“I said, ‘oh, yeah?’” Kennedy continued. “He said, ‘I have a one-six-pack brief and two-six-pack brief.’  I said, ‘I remember your last one. I think it was a three-six-pack brief.’”

Get the full transcript here, and find out more about Federal News Service and its transcription and media monitoring services here.


Delay in DOMA cases?

New filing are expected at the U.S. Supreme Court in pending certiorari petitions involving the constitutional challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, a law prohibiting the federal recognition of same-sex marriages even where they are allowed under state law.

The filings, from both the Obama administration and House Republicans defending the law, could be in response to a recent 2nd Circuit ruling striking down the law and extending constitutional protections for gays and lesbians. The justices had been expected to soon decide whether to take any or all of the cases up, but could delay that move in order to consider all DOMA-related challenges at once, SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston explains.

In addition to the DOMA petitions, the justices have also been asked to take up the case challenging California’s voter-approved Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage in that state.

Ginsburg on the art of persuasion

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says her job has required her to master the art of persuasion.

“None of us operating in that setting can hope to prevail if we try to be King or Queen. You have to accommodate to the views of other people,” Ginsburg said that a Yale University event Friday, according to the West Hartford News.

Ginsburg said she learned the skill as a litigator, taking on laws that promoted gender inequality. “The major problem that gender equality advocates faced in the ’70s was that the laws differentiating between men and women did so for a benign purpose – to protect women,” Ginsburg said, according to the report. “We had to show the court how these classifications are harmful to everyone. To men, to women and to children.”

Her favorite method of achieving that goal: evoking daughters. ‘‘I would try to get men to think not so much about what good husbands or fathers they had been but how do they want the world to be for their daughters,” she said, according to the AP.

For all of Lawyers USA’s Supreme Court coverage, check out our Supreme Court Report.

Kagan and Scalia go hunting

Justice Antonin G. Scalia and Justice Elena Kagan are officially hunting buddies.

The two justices of the U.S. Supreme Court spent Saturday hunting together in Wyoming according to Kagan, who talked about their plans while speaking Friday at an event at the University of Tennessee, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Kagan, who has been target shooting with Scalia several times, told the crowd that last spring Scalia proclaimed: “It’s time to move on to the big game.”

“I’m hoping to bag myself an antelope,” she said Friday.


Chief justice: New technology poses legal challenges

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., speaking Wednesday at Rice University, said that the biggest legal challenge for federal judges, including the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, is emerging technologies.

“Is being able to see through walls a violation of search and seizure protections? I think it will be a good opportunity to see how prescient the framers were if the Constitution will be able to deal with these questions,” Roberts said during remarks at the school, the Houston Chronicle reports. “What is the fundamental protection offered by the Constitution when applied to new technology and situations? It’s a question that comes along all the time.”

Earlier this year, the Court held that police’s warrantless installation of a GPS device on a suspect’s car violated the Fourth Amendment, and since then other courts as well as lawmakers have struggled to delineate the parameters of that ruling.

A ticket for Scalia

He may be the most senior associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, but Justice Antonin G. Scalia is not above the law.

Scalia, who was in Philadelphia Monday attending an event at Union League – the tony private club depicted in the classic Eddie Murphy film “Trading Places” – was reminded of that fact that when he returned to his car to find a parking ticket.

Despite the police business parking Packard displayed on his dash, Scalia was apparently cited for parking in a loading zone, according to the National Constitution Center’s blog. But one this is certain: the ticket was not part of a partisan conspiracy. The Center jokes in its blog post that the city’s Parking Authority is on of the few GOP-controlled agencies in the mostly Democratic city government.

It’s also worth noting that the city’s parking officials do not fool around – they are famous for being the stars of the television show “Parking Wars” for five years, the blog notes.

The Funniest Justice, week 2: Million dollar laugh

During her oral argument Tuesday in the case Ryan v. Valencia Gonzales, attorney Leticia Marquez argued that criminal defense lawyers who lose the ability to effectively communicate with their client have a duty to raise the issue with the judge.

“Is he under duty to raise it as soon as possible, at the risk of forfeiture if he doesn’t?” asked Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

“Well, that’s the million dollar question,” Marquez said.

“Well, that’s why I’m asking,” Kennedy replied to laughter from the crowd.

And with that, the swing-voting justice is on the board in our ongoing count to determine this term’s Funniest Justice. Justice Antonin G. Scalia and Justice Stephen G. Breyer also each earned a laugh this week. Here are our standings after week 2:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.: 3

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 3

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 2

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 0

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 0

Justice Elena Kagan: 0