Federal Judges

Technology today's tech A few months ago, I shared how Judge Richard Wesley of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit uses his iPad as part of his day-to-day routine, making him a more efficient and effective jurist. Well, he’s not the only technologically proficient judge. Janet T. Neff, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Michigan, knows her way around technology, too.

Her interest in technology is nothing new. It began nearly 40 years ago and she hasn’t looked back since. “I first became interested in computers in the late 1970s when I was working as a Commissioner at the Michigan Supreme Court. Westlaw and Lexis were just beginning to come out with their services and I was assigned to talk to their representatives. I was intrigued with their services but we didn’t do much with it at that time,” she explains. “Many years later, when I was on the Michigan Court of Appeals, our clerk’s office was very invested in using technology and — almost as an afterthought — they asked if any of the judges were interested in it. I was the only judge who was. I was given a ‘dumb terminal’ and was later part of the committee that addressed the Y2K issue. So it was an evolutionary process and then when I came to the federal court, where the IT resources were even better, I began to utilize technology further.”

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Left to right (but not in ideological terms): Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Justice Clarence Thomas.

Left to right (but not in ideological terms): Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Justice Clarence Thomas.

The day before he got turned away from Sunday brunch, Justice Samuel Alito and two of his Supreme Court colleagues, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, received Yale Law School’s Award of Merit for their contributions to the legal profession. The three justices then participated in a great joint interview conducted by Professor Kate Stith.

We covered the proceedings on Twitter (see @ATLblog and @DavidLat), and we shared with you write-ups from Adam Liptak of the New York Times, Robert Barnes of the Washington Post, and Tony Mauro of the Legal Times. But for the SCOTUS devotees among you who are not yet satisfied, keep reading for even more about this very special event….

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Justice Samuel Alito

Justice Alito: no blueberry pancakes for you!

I’m a big fan of Justice Samuel Alito. He’s a brilliant thinker, a tremendous writer, and an incisive questioner (as I learned arguing before him when he sat on the Third Circuit, and as anyone can learn from listening to audio recordings of Supreme Court arguments). I’m also a devotee of his delightful wife, the stylish and vivacious Martha-Ann Alito.

This past weekend, the Alitos returned to his alma mater, Yale Law School, where Justice Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor received the Yale Law School Association’s Award of Merit for their contributions to the legal profession. The three justices then participated in a lively and insightful conversation, skillfully moderated by Professor Kate Stith (and live-tweeted by yours truly; see @ATLblog and @DavidLat).

Members of the audience expressed admiration for Justice Alito and his sly sense of humor. But beyond the ivory tower, not everyone admires the justice — or even has the ability to recognize him.

Earlier today, Justice Alito got bounced out of a brunch joint….

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steak beef meat steakhouse

[R]eading the record with just a dash of common sense tells us that chefs who happen to be American citizens surely have the capacity to learn how to cook Brazilian steaks and perform the relevant related tasks. To maintain otherwise, as Fogo de Chao does, is to imply that Brazilian chefs are essentially born with (or somehow absorb during their formative years) a cooking skill that cannot be acquired through reasonable training, which seems an entirely untenable proposition.

– Judge Brett Kavanaugh (D.C. Cir.), dissenting in an interesting case regarding whether certain foreign chefs can qualify for the L-1B visa, granted to workers with “specialized knowledge.” Why does this feeder judge hate… food?

Righteous-IndignationThe public learned this week that the Judicial Council of the D.C. Circuit dismissed a complaint of judicial misconduct against Judge Edith Jones of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.   The order followed a year-long investigation by Special Counsel Jeffrey Bellin.  The roughly 70-page Report of the Special Committee appears nonpartisan, thorough, and fair.

The complaint stemmed from a lecture Judge Jones gave to the University of Pennsylvania Federalist Society chapter in February 2013.  Among the complainants’ claims was that, during her lecture, Judge Jones suggested she believed that members of certain races were predisposed to commit violent crimes.  With no recording of the event, witnesses disagreed about exactly what she said.  Was she talking about genetic determinism?  Or was she only referring to the objective fact that, for whatever reason, our nation’s prisoners are disproportionately black and Latino?  The subsequent independent investigation concluded that “whatever she said initially, it is clear that Judge Jones used the question-and-answer period to clarify that she did not adhere to such views,” rejecting the complaint’s version of her speech. The D.C. Circuit cleared her of all of the charges of misconduct, including this one.

When the complaint was first filed, I defended Judge Jones. Defending her was relatively easy….

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Judge Edith Jones

I did not say such things because I have never believed them and have never said them.

– Judge Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit, denying she made offensive comments attributed to her by an ethics complaint. A panel of federal judges dismissed the complaint, but various civil-rights groups and legal ethicists are appealing the dismissal.

Sexism is pervasive in the legal profession, and it’s highly unusual if a week passes and there isn’t something to decry about the way women are treated by their male colleagues. From pay inequities and being passed up for partnership to constant lectures about the way they ought to dress, act, and speak, women lawyers have been given the short end of the stick in what was once considered a noble calling.

Worse yet, when it comes to achieving any sense of work/life balance, each action a woman lawyer takes is scrutinized with intensity — there are always questions raised as to her true dedication to her work. Should a woman lawyer be so bold as to become pregnant and then take maternity leave, then all bets are off. Colleagues will sigh with exasperation and fault their pregnant coworker for putting more work on their shoulders while the lawyer with child goes off to enjoy her “vacation” from the job.

It seems that even judges are fed up with women attorneys and their pesky maternity leave….

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Or at least between one group of plaintiffs and one group of defendants. A Missouri judge was hearing a challenge to the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. Then the plaintiffs filed for summary judgment and sought a permanent injunction directing county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. All pretty standard.

But then the Missouri Family Policy Council filed a brief in support of the defendants. Which was jarring for the Judge Ortrie D. Smith since the Missouri Family Policy Council was not a party to the case and had sought no permission to file anything with the court.

Benchslap ho!

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The latest batch of presidential papers from the Clinton Administration, recently released to the public, contain some fun nuggets for law nerds. We’ve mentioned a few of them already — e.g., the time that a pre-robescent Elena Kagan, then a White House staffer, dropped the f-bomb in a memo to White House counsel Jack Quinn. Another just came to light today: as reported by Tony Mauro, a pre-robescent John Roberts, then in private practice at Hogan & Hartson, came close to representing President Clinton in the U.S. Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones.

The papers contain other interesting tidbits too — and some are sad rather than salacious. For example, there’s the story of how a brilliant and distinguished circuit judge came thisclose to landing a seat on the Supreme Court, until health problems derailed his nomination….

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Would you like a touch of sugar with that, Your Honor?

Federal judges are… fruity! I once visited Chief Judge Alex Kozinski in chambers, where I witnessed the judge engage in a spirited argument with one of his law clerks over the proper way to peel and eat an orange. Everything is up for debate in the Kozinski chambers.

And it seems like Judge Kozinski isn’t the only judicial giant with a fruit fetish. In oral arguments yesterday for Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, concerning whether Amazon warehouse workers can get paid overtime for going through an end-of-day security screening, Justice Elena Kagan raised this fun scenario: if a federal judge orders his clerks to come into chambers early, to cut up his grapefruit and make the rest of his breakfast, should the clerks get paid for that?

As it turns out, this “hypothetical” is based on real life. Which federal judge actually does this?

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