9th Circuit

Judge Paul Watford

Congratulations to the newest member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Honorable Paul J. Watford. On Monday, Watford, currently a 44-year-old partner at the super-elite Munger Tolles & Olson, was confirmed to the federal bench. The vote was 61-34, and it came after a bit of drama in the Senate.

It’s surprising that Watford’s nomination was so contentious, given that he has a number of backers from the right side of the aisle. As noted by the San Francisco Chronicle, “[h]is supporters included conservative UCLA law Professor Eugene Volokh, who has described Watford as brilliant and ideologically moderate, and attorney Jeremy Rosen, former president of the Los Angeles chapter of the conservative Federalist Society” (and a noted appellate lawyer, who has appeared before in these pages).

That’s not all. Watford clerked for Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, one of a handful of prominent conservative or libertarian judges on the (generally liberal) Ninth Circuit. If you look at the ranks of former Kozinski clerks, you’ll see many members in good standing of the vast right-wing conspiracy (and some who are not, like Paul Watford — who went on to clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and was nominated to the Ninth Circuit by a Democratic president).

Now that the handsome Watford has joined his superhottie boss on the bench, we have a trivia question: Who is the circuit judge with the most former law clerks to join him on the Court of Appeals during his lifetime?

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How would you define excessive force? There doesn’t seem to be a precise definition, if only because it’s a matter of legalese. Generally speaking, the police shouldn’t be using force beyond what is called for under the circumstances, which is a somewhat subjective test.

We’ll lob you a softball so you can decide the answers to these important questions. Can you use a Taser on a pregnant woman? How many times can you do it? Once? Twice? Three times?

Now, if your initial reaction was something like, “Holy sh*t! Who does that?,” you must be thinking that the police would be crazy to tase a pregnant woman — especially a pregnant woman who’s two months away from her due date. She’d have to have done something egregious to warrant the use of such force.

But that’s not what happened to a pregnant woman in Washington who received the punishment for a mere traffic violation. And the police officers who inflicted her pain want to take the case to the United States Supreme Court….

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Ed. note: Please welcome Matt Kaiser, our new Supreme Court columnist at Above the Law. His photo and bio appear after the jump.

This is my first column for Above the Law on the Supreme Court. In an effort to help me generate effective linkbait, the Supreme Court issued an opinion yesterday at the intersection of bankruptcy and tax law for farmers — Hall v. United States.

Basically, Hall means that, if you’re a farmer and you declare bankruptcy on your farm under Chapter 12 (“the one just for farmers”), and, while in bankruptcy, you sell your farm, you will still have to pay capital gains tax on the sale of your farm — any liability to the IRS is not dischargeable.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the opinion is that Ninth Circuit was affirmed. Though, in fairness, the Ninth Circuit opinion was written by Judge O’Scannlain, so it’s not as though the Supreme Court affirmed Judge Reinhardt.

Also, farmers who are in bankruptcy and sell their farms now have to pay tax on the profits from those sales. I’m sure much of the Midwest is rioting in response.

For those who practice tax law, bankruptcy, or farming law, you will definitely want to read the opinion and some of the write-ups on it.

But the most exciting part of the morning involved new members of the Supreme Court bar….

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The federal judiciary recently lost two of its most distinguished members. One was a trial judge on the East Coast, and one was an appellate judge on the West Coast (as well as the nation’s longest-serving federal appellate judge).

Both were leading lights of the Article III judiciary. They will be deeply missed by their courts; their clerks, current and former; and their colleagues….

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The Snooki Defense

* Aw, come on, Mort, Dewey really have to pay you $61M? In case you missed it last night, the only thing that made the former vice chairman’s departure memo dramatic was the insane amount that he claims he’s owed. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Congratulations to Jacqueline H. Nguyen on her confirmation to the Ninth Circuit. She’s the first Asian American woman to sit on a federal appellate court, so she’s earned our judicial diva title (in a good way). You go girl! [Los Angeles Times]

* Google might’ve infringed upon Oracle’s copyrights, but a jury couldn’t decide if it constituted fair use. Sorry, Judge Alsup, but with that kind of a decision, you can bet your ass that there’ll be an appeal. [New York Times]

* A Harvard Law professor has come to Elizabeth Warren’s defense, claiming that an alleged affirmative action advantage played no role in her hiring. And besides, even if it did, it only played 1/32 of a role. [Boston Herald]

* Classes at Cooley Law’s Tampa Bay campus began last night. Unsurprisingly, the inaugural class is double the size originally projected, because everyone wants to attend the second-best school in the nation. [MLive]

* Albany Law will be having a three-day conference on the legal implications of the Civil War. This could be a little more exciting if presenters wore reenactment garb and did battle when it was over. [National Law Journal]

* Jury selection is underway in a second degree murder trial that will forever be known as the case where a defendant first raised the “Snooki Defense.” He didn’t kill his wife… but her spray tan did. [CBS Miami]

There’s nothing a lawyer likes better than winning a case — especially a case that’s been argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s basically the crowning achievement of a successful career in the law. That being said, even the most gracious SCOTUS victor is entitled to do some gloating (even if the subject matter was particularly snooze-worthy, like qualified immunity).

But sometimes lawyers can go a little overboard with their victory dances. Sometimes lawyers will think up some really outside-the-box ways to shame the losing litigant — and, in the process, themselves.

And with that, allow us introduce you to our Lawyer of the Day, a man who decided it would be a great idea to write a letter to his opponent with the suggestion that he read the SCOTUS opinion “eternally from hell”….

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Professor Brian Tamanaha

* Professor Brian Tamanaha: “Not since 1986-1987 have law schools seen total applicant numbers this low.” Good news, or bad news? Actually, a bit of both. [Balkinization via Instapundit]

* Musical chairs: Michael Chepiga, the retired Simpson partner and erstwhile Broadway playwright, has a new and unusual job. [Am Law Daily]

* Elsewhere in job switches, the law schools at Albany and the University of Missouri (Columbia) have announced new deans. [Faculty Lounge]

* Goldman bankers don’t want to own shares in a company connected with sex trafficking. They just want to enjoy its services like normal paying customers. [Dealbreaker]

* One Chicago court seems to think it can quash the social media revolution. #goodluckwiththat [Not-So Private Parts / Forbes]

* Elsewhere in social-media news, thank God for this ruling. Otherwise, everyone we know would be fired and in jail. [WSJ Law Blog]

* If you still aren’t on Twitter, here’s another reason you should jump on the bandwagon. You never know when your boyfriend might get kidnapped in South Africa and thrown in the trunk of a car, and you have to tweet the kidnappers’ license plate so he can be rescued. [Ars Technica]

* Speaking of Twitter, this is unacceptable behavior (unless you’re a federal judge from Montana). [Fashionista]

Majority opinions are hardly sitting ducks for the criticism dissentals may heap on them. If a panel majority finds that a dissental scores some valid points, it can modify its opinion to eliminate the problem, something that happens regularly in the Ninth Circuit. Indeed, fear that internal criticisms will be taken public often causes judges to moderate outlier opinions so as to present a smaller target for public criticism and possible certiorari. One of us (yes, the hot one) is even aware of a case where the panel withdrew its opinion and reversed the result, after winning the en banc vote, in the teeth of a stinging dissental.

– Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (9th Cir.) and his former law clerk, James Burnham of Jones Day, in a Yale Law Journal online essay entitled I Say Dissental, You Say Concurral (defending the practice of filing a dissental, aka dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc).

(Additional discussion, after the jump.)

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* Due process, judicial process, yeah, yeah, same difference. Not so, says Attorney General Eric Holder — especially when it comes to assassinating killing Americans abroad. [Blog of Legal Times]

* Now that BP has settled claims made by private sector plaintiffs, state and federal government lawyers are getting ready to wait “months, not weeks” for their new trial date. [Financial Times]

* Newt Gingrich wants his “Eye of the Tiger” copyright infringement suit to be dismissed. Listen, judge, if he can’t play this song, we won’t get our moon base or cheaper gas. [The Caucus / New York Times]

* As if being a Mets fan wasn’t bad enough on its own, Judge Jed Rakoff has struck again. He refused to dismiss Irving Picard’s lawsuit, and now the team’s owners must go to trial over millions. [Businessweek]

* Lawyers from Milberg will be joining Paul Ceglia’s legal team. They must not have checked this dude’s Facebook timeline — this is the the fifth firm to sign up for a Gibson Dunn sucker punch. [Bloomberg]

* Thanks to a decision by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, Jared Loughner will continue to be forcibly medicated. What better way to restore him to competency than to shove pills down his throat? [Reuters]

Montana Chief Judge Richard Cebull

Montana Chief Judge Richard Cebull started the first day of the rest of his life today. The judge who sent around a racist and sexist email about Barack Obama and the president’s dead mother started the “damage control” process that will never really end.

Richard Cebull could emancipate slaves and everybody would still know he’s a racist. Obviously, his family and friends already knew he was racist, but now the general public gets to know. There’s nothing for it now. Whether or not he will still be allowed to have a job is pretty much all he can fight for.

And he is: he’s voluntarily asked the Ninth Circuit to review his conduct. And he’s written a letter of apology to President Obama — who is rapidly on his way to becoming the most poorly treated president in American history (even though the last one was openly thought to be mentally retarded, and the one before that was impeached for getting a BJ).

But we’ll get to all that. First, free of charge, I’m going to slow down long enough let everybody catch up to why the original letter was racist, and why sending the thing makes Cebull a racist, too….

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