Adam Liptak

C'mon, Your Honors, look lively!

Tonight, as everyone knows, President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. The speech starts at 9 p.m. (Eastern time). For real-time reactions over Twitter, follow @ATLblog, @DavidLat, @ElieNYC, and @StaciZaretsky. For a post-speech wrap-up, check Above the Law, either late tonight or tomorrow morning.

For Supreme Court nerds, here’s the perennial question: How many members of SCOTUS will show up at the SOTU? Feel free to make your guesses, in the comments.

Here’s some historical perspective to inform your speculation….

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David and Sandra have enjoyed it. I kind of like not having to read a lot of briefs and get reversed by my former colleagues.

– Justice John Paul Stevens, in a humorous quip about the willingness of his fellow retired justices, Sandra Day O’Connor and David H. Souter, to sit by designation on the circuit courts.

(Justice Stevens just published a new book — Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir (affiliate link) — to coincide with the start of the latest Term of SCOTUS, which got underway this week. Adam Liptak of the New York Times praises the memoir as “engaging and candid.”)

I think that it’s probably wrong, in almost all situations, to use a dictionary in the courtroom. Dictionary definitions are written with a lot of things in mind, but rigorously circumscribing the exact meanings and connotations of terms is not usually one of them.

Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary, quoted in an interesting New York Times piece by Adam Liptak about how Supreme Court justices are consulting and quoting dictionaries more frequently in their opinions.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer

Are justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gods, or men? There’s evidence on both sides. Their brilliant legal minds and dazzling résumés weigh in favor of deity designation. Their ability to make mistakes suggests that they’re mere mortals.

Supreme Court justices: they’re just like us! They get into accidents — as Justice Stephen Breyer did over Memorial Day weekend, while riding his bicycle near his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Justice Breyer broke his right collarbone in the incident — ouch (and more evidence to support my dislike of cycling).

This isn’t even the first vehicular mishap for one of the nine in 2011. As you may recall, Justice Antonin Scalia got in a car accident, back in March — and received a ticket for it.

Physical accidents involving federal judges might not be shocking; brainiacs aren’t known for their grace and agility. But ethical oversights might be more surprising.

Let’s look at the latest controversy involving Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. — and whether the hubbub is justified….

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If I were a Republican on the court, I wouldn’t think twice about this if I thought the law was unconstitutional. I don’t think they’re going to take some giant hit on it.

— Professor Lee Epstein of Northwestern, commenting to the New York Times on how a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice might rule on a constitutional challenge to health care reform.

Today’s New York Times has a meaty and interesting front-page article about political ideology and Supreme Court clerk hiring. The piece, written by SCOTUS correspondent Adam Liptak, reminded us a lot of one that Liptak wrote last year (which we discussed here). But since there’s no such thing as too much talk about The Elect, let’s dig into it.

(By the way, speaking of Supreme Court clerk hiring, we’re working on an update that should come out soon. If you’re aware of a clerk hire that wasn’t included in our last write-up, listing both OT 2010 and OT 2011 clerks, please email us (subject line: “SCOTUS clerk hiring”). Thanks.)

Liptak begins by discussing the fabulosity that is a SCOTUS clerkship:

Each year, 36 young lawyers obtain the most coveted credential in American law: a Supreme Court clerkship. Clerking for a justice is a glittering capstone on a résumé that almost always includes outstanding grades at a top law school, service on a law review and a prestigious clerkship with a federal appeals court judge.

One could quibble with the number of 36, but we’ll get to that later. Let’s focus on the main point of the piece, the growing politicization of high-court clerk hiring….

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A few weeks back, a lawyer friend invited us to attend the Air Guitar New York Championships in Brooklyn. It was described to us as “pretty rad.” We declined to attend, but in doing so, missed out on taking part in an activity that seems to be taking the legal community by storm. ESPN recently described competitive air guitar thus:

Writhing and finger-plucking. Wagging tongues and balcony dives. Oh, and male shirtlessness. Lots of male shirtlessness. All of it taking place before hundreds of screaming, chanting spectators… [It] isn’t about music. It’s about world peace (really). And going to Finland (really). And headbands. (So many headbands). Mostly, it’s about rock. Head-banging, face-melting, soul-devouring rock. The mysterious, ineffable feeling therein. What air guitar devotees creatively call … “the airness.”

So which legal eagles have been overcome by this “mysterious, ineffable feeling”? A Georgetown Law student, a University of Colorado Law professor, and New York Times legal correspondent, Adam Liptak.

Liptak has actually been in the judge’s seat for a couple Air Guitar competitions in D.C. How did he gain his expertise in the air guitar? We caught up with him for a brief interview. When it comes to air guitar jurisprudence, Liptak has something in common with Justices Scalia and Thomas…

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And some other legal eagles who air rock

Justice John Paul Stevens.jpgJust a quick follow-up to yesterday’s discussion of whether Justice John Paul Stevens’s failure to hire a full complement of law clerks for October Term 2010 might shed light upon his retirement plans. In today’s New York Times, Adam Liptak has an excellent article on the subject. It begins:

A Supreme Court clerkship is a glittering prize and the ultimate credential in American law, one coveted by the top graduates of the best law schools. Until recently, though, only connoisseurs of ambition and status followed the justices’ hiring process closely.

It turns out those hiring decisions may be a sort of early warning system for hints about the justices’ retirement plans. “We’ve started tracking Supreme Court hiring in real time,” said David Lat, the founder of Above the Law, a legal blog.

Thanks for the shout-out, Mr. Liptak! When it comes to being “connoisseurs of ambition and status,” we plead guilty.

Justice David H. Souter’s failure to hire clerks this spring accurately signaled his decision to step down. On Wednesday, the court confirmed that Justice John Paul Stevens, who is 89, has hired only one clerk, instead of the usual four, for the term starting in October 2010. That ignited speculation that Justice Stevens may be planning to step down next summer.

Some thoughts on what’s going on here, after the jump.

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titanic.jpg* A U.S. District Judge in Virginia, Rebecca Beach Smith, will soon decide whether preserved Titanic artifacts must remain available to the public. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

* Adam Liptak gives us a lively look into the Supreme Court discussion about the highly critical Hillary documentary. [The New York Times]

* Obama’s lawyers were in lock-step with Bush policies Tuesday, arguing in favor of the decision to refuse one of Europe’s leading Muslim intellectuals entry in to the U.S. [Reuters]

* Pakistan’s supreme court chief justice returned to court Tuesday amid dancing supporters. [The Associated Press]

* Attorneys cringe as Blagojevich continues to put himself in the spotlight despite his pending federal corruption indictment. [The Associated Press]

* Dreier LLP may be able to reduce a $29 million claim from Wachovia. They need all the help they can get. [Greenwich Time]

* Barney Frank defends calling Scalia a “homophobe.” [The Boston Globe]

Dahlia Lithwick Slate Senior Editor.jpgWe spent a fair amount of time last week in lovely Charlottesville, Virginia, where we spoke at the University of Virginia Law School (coverage of our talk appears here and here). We spent lots of quality time with UVA Law students — at dinner, at a karaoke bar, and walking around the beautiful grounds.

One of the highlights of our trip was attending a luncheon talk by the fabulous Dahlia Lithwick, who has covered the Supreme Court for Slate for the past ten years (and who also served as a celebrity judge on ATL Idol). Despite suffering from a nasty flu, she delivered remarks that were hilarious and insightful, shedding much light upon media coverage of the Court.

Read more, after the jump.

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