Federal Judges

Federal judges are people too — and I have proof. Earlier this week, one federal appellate judge accepted my friend request on Facebook. Another circuit judge emailed me — from a Gmail account (although we didn’t Gchat; that would have been too cool for words).

Judges are real people — with opinions, not just of the judicial kind, and with personalities. They have interesting lives — off the bench, and before they’re appointed to the bench. Judges are not grown in petri dishes, and donning the robes cannot and does not erase their personal or professional histories.

So I’m not quite sure why everyone is getting their proverbial undergarments [FN1] in a wad over a forthcoming memoir by Judge Nancy Gertner (D. Mass.). The pot was first stirred by the Boston Globe, which began its article as follows: “US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner has a memoir coming out in April, and it bears a very unjudicial title: In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate.”

“[A] very unjudicial title.” Really? Is this the Boston Globe, or the Boston Herald?

Let’s delve into the controversy….

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[S]ome of the conclusions of which our leading economic experts have been confident have turned out to be incorrect. For example, Alan Greenspan, appointed and then reappointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve for five terms by four different Presidents, recently admitted to a significant flaw in the ideology that caused him to support and implement policies of financial deregulation…

And Judge Richard Posner, a highly respected jurist and a leading economics expert, has recently expressed his admiration for Keynesian economics, reversing a lifetime of reliance on the Chicago School’s approach.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, writing for the Ninth Circuit in State of California v. Safeway, Inc.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski gives a thumbs up to privacy for the poor

A user’s manual that’s 200+ years old can be difficult to apply to modern technologies. Thus, it’s been a challenge for judges interpreting the Fourth Amendment as it applies to police surveillance via GPS tracking devices on cars.

There has been a plethora of precedents set across the country as to whether slapping a GPS tracker on a car is considered a “search” and whether a warrant is needed. A Wisconsin state court decided last year that warrantless GPS surveillance is okay. Within a week of the Wisconsin decision, a New York state court disagreed. More recently, the D.C. Circuit ruled that GPS tracking is indeed a search, and introduced what the Volokh Conspiracy’s Orin Kerr called a “mosaic theory of the Fourth Amendment,” i.e., that a series of discrete facts may be public, but their aggregation may violate privacy rights. Kerr dissed the D.C. Circuit’s mosaic ruling, but Cato’s Julian Sanchez was a fan.

The Ninth Circuit got in on the GPS-Fourth Amendment throwdown too. As noted by How Appealing, a Ninth Circuit panel — consisting of two of the court’s more conservative members, Diarmuid O’Scannlain and Randy Smith, and Judge Charles Wolle (S.D. Iowa), sitting my designation — ruled that police officers who placed a GPS device on the underbed of a suspected drug dealer’s car while it was parked outside of his house did not violate his constitutional rights.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski was not happy about their decision. He wrote an angry dissent from the denial of rehearing en banc, accusing the judges of “cultural elitism,” by granting privacy rights to the rich but not to the poor…

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Calls his fellow judges ‘cultural elitists’ when it comes to privacy.

I have to, it’s my job. I mean what would I do? I don’t know what I would do.

– Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner, when asked at trial how he could carry on after feeling threatened by radio host Hal Turner’s comment that Judge Posner and two of his colleagues “deserve to be killed.”

Last week, I wrote (with great pleasure) about whether women lawyers should wear peep-toe shoes to court. In my informal poll of seven federal judges, the vote broke down roughly as follows: four in favor, two opposed, and one in the middle. (See the update — Judge Susan Graber seemed agnostic on peep-toes, but advised lawyers, male and female alike, “to consider comfort and color” in footwear choices.)

One of the judges who dissented, lodging her opposition to a litigatrix sporting peep-toe shoes in court, was Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw (9th Cir.):

My view is that if you have a question about the appropriateness of your attire, don’t risk it. Women appearing in court should never wear anything that draws attention to their anatomy over the merits of their case. You just never know how your audience — judges, jurors, clients or senior partners — will react. It’s better to play it safe in formal settings and save the peep-toes for after hours.

But don’t get the wrong impression about Judge Wardlaw, who is fierce and fabulous (see my earlier interview of her). She is not some fashion fuddy-duddy. Although she recommends against lawyers wearing peep-toes to court, she owns many pairs of herself, which she happily wears in chambers.

Check out these photos of Judge Wardlaw modeling peep-toe shoes, sent to Above the Law by her colleague on the Ninth Circuit, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski….

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Today’s confirmation of Elena Kagan as the fourth woman ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court is a milestone worth celebrating. For ladies in the law, things are looking up.

But female law students and lawyers still have complaints. Check out a recent query submitted to the Dear Prudence advice column over at Slate, by a correspondent calling herself “Livid but Lost Law Student”:

I am a female law student who is employed for the summer (and potentially for the school year) at a small firm that I’m really enjoying. The law office shares a floor of an office building with a bigger law firm, and my cubicle is “on the border.”

All of the attorneys at both firms are male, but at the other firm, the men are far from politically correct. I have two issues….

Let’s explore this law student’s “issues,” shall we?

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Today Chief Judge Vaughn Walker (N.D. Cal.) issued his ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the constitutional challenge to Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage. The case was famously brought by Ted Olson and David Boies, two of the nation’s top lawyers (who previously faced off in Bush v. Gore, on opposite sides of the case). We first learned of the news at 4:35 PM today (via Chris Rovzar of New York magazine).

In his 136-page ruling, Chief Judge Walker — a Bush I appointee to the federal bench who is generally viewed as a moderate, not some crazy San Francisco liberal — ruled that Prop 8 is “unconstitutional under both the due process and equal protection clauses.” Accordingly, he “order[ed] entry of judgment permanently enjoining its enforcement.”

A permanent injunction? Expect Prop 8 proponents to turn to a higher court in 3, 2, 1…. But is the famously left-leaning Ninth Circuit going to be much help?

For excerpts from the opinion and more links, see below….

UPDATE: This post has been revised extensively since it was first published.

Note especially the update near the end of this post regarding Judge Walker’s STAYING THE ENTRY OF JUDGMENT.

We have also added a READER POLL, after the jump.

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I am not the Maytag repairman of federal judges desperately hoping for something to do.

– Nevada Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen, explaining why it took her so long to issue a scathing sanction [PDF] of defense counsel.

(Gavel bang: Las Vegas Review-Journal via ABA Journal.)

Earlier today, on the Senate floor, debate took place on whether to confirm Solicitor General Elena Kagan as the nation’s 112th Supreme Court justice. The Kagan nomination is not very controversial, due to the nominee’s impeccable credentials and the Democrats’ 59 votes in the Senate.

In the legal blogosphere, a far more divisive debate is raging, over a subject just as important as confirming the fourth woman ever to the Supreme Court: Are peep-toe shoes appropriate professional footwear? Can female attorneys wear them to the office? What about to court?

The debate was ignited over at The Careerist, by Vivia Chen (no style slouch herself — not many legal journalists own floor-length mink coats). Chen recounted this anecdote:

Waiting in line in the ladies room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel recently, I heard this discussion: “In my day, I always wore pumps to court,” said in a woman in her fifties. “Can you believe this associate went to court with open-toe shoes?” Her companion shook her head, then asked: “How did she do?” The first woman replied, “Her work was good, but her shoes weren’t right.”

Chen then surveyed a number of lawyers, from around the country, and they could not reach a consensus on the appropriateness of peep-toe shoes. The debate continued over at the ABA Journal, where a post by Debra Cassens Weiss generated a flurry of comments.

Given that so many law firms are business casual nowadays, it is probably safe to wear peep-toe shoes to the office. The fashion guidelines issued by the New York office of Weil Gotshal, for example, officially bless “open toe or open heel shoes.” (Still unacceptable: “Athletic shoes, clogs, beach shoes, flip flops, beach shoes.”)

But what about wearing peep-toe shoes to court? On this subject, we decided to turn to the experts: namely, a panel of fabulous female federal judges….

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I don’t believe you when you say just about anything anymore because I know that you will lie to a court any time it helps you. I know that. I saw you do it. I know you will do that. You have proven that to me beyond a reasonable doubt.

– Chief Judge James Holderman (N.D. Ill.) of Chicago, berating government lawyers — before a unanimous panel of the Seventh Circuit removed him from the case, in the middle of trial. Judge Richard Posner’s opinion cited Judge Holderman’s abuse of discretion and “unreasonable fury toward the prosecutors.”

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