Chief Judge Merrick Garland

Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since last week, is dreading March 1.

With heavy stress on “not,” Chief Judge Garland said he does “not look forward” to the potential sequester because he knows that it would mean cuts and that he would have to make them.

Garland, along with fellow D.C. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith and Senior Judge Laurence Silberman, spoke Saturday at the Georgetown University Law Center, as part of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society’s annual conference. I attended the panel presentation.

One positive of the new job for Garland is that he can make more writing assignments. Like Justice Breyer, he was a longtime junior judge. Translation: He had to take what he was given to write.

“The public has seen [Garland’s] last opinion on energy law,” Griffith predicted.

Read more about the panel, including Silberman’s jabs at the recess appointments decision, Griffith’s magical (?) clerk gift, and Garland’s limited edition headgear for a court party, after the jump….

The E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse, home of the D.C. Circuit.

Silberman did not shy away from the D.C. Circuit’s recent Noel Canning decision invalidating President Obama’s NLRB recess appointments. Griffith helped decide that case, concurring in all but one part.

Garland and Griffith did not comment on the case. The NLRB can still petition for rehearing en banc, and both judges could vote on it. As a senior judge not on the Noel Canning panel, Silberman would not vote on the petition or participate in rehearing and that may have released the hounds.

Referring to a recess appointee some years ago as part of a larger story, Silberman paused to say: “God help him if Judge Griffith [had been around].”

Later, Silberman explained that judges who have served in the executive branch have a “profound distaste” for Congress. Judges who have served in the legislative branch are “more tolerant” of the legislature. Silberman gave Griffith’s “recent decision” as an example.

Coming from a former deputy U.S. attorney general, NLRB attorney, and Department of Labor solicitor and undersecretary (Silberman) about a former Senate legal counsel (Griffith), message received.

Griffith mentioned that he gives his clerks a small ornamental turtle to remind them to go slowly and get things right.

The turtle is also a symbol at the Supreme Court that appears on the East Pediment of the building, along with the hare, and at the base of lampposts (see 0:59).

Griffith is the top feeder judge for the Court’s current term.

Maybe the turtle reminds clerks to go slowly — and to move uphill (less than a mile from the D.C. Circuit, up Constitution Avenue and right onto First Street).

Garland was also a top feeder judge this term, and Silberman is no slouch in this regard, either. Eighth Circuit Judge Steven Colloton, former Solicitor General Paul Clement, and many others left Silberman’s chambers to clerk at the Supreme Court.

It came up in the panel discussion that Garland donned a cowboy hat for a recent party held to mark the chief judge transition. David Sentelle, the outgoing chief who took senior status last week, is known for his trademark cowboy gear.

Lest anyone expect more cowboy hats in the future, Garland made clear that he is from Illinois and does not wear them, except to honor Sentelle.


Attorney Michelle Olsen writes for the National Law Journal’s Supreme Court section and publishes Appellate Daily, a Twitter feed and blog about federal appeals. She can be reached at [email protected].


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