Judicial Nominations

[L]aw schools are questioning whether or not they are teaching students the right way, and it seems to me that the bench and the bar can engage in serious discussions with the law schools to advise them whether or not, say for the next 20 years… they have the proper approach for teaching those who will soon be the trustees of the law as active practitioners. That is urgent.

– Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking this week at the Ninth Circuit’s Judicial Conference in Maui.

(Justice Kennedy’s defense of Hawaii as a conference venue, after the jump.)

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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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I’m not sure if everyone has noticed, but right now in America gay people are the only people it’s okay to be openly bigoted against. Think about it, you can’t say that Obama can’t be president because he’s black. You have to dress it up and say crap like “he’s Kenyan,” or “he’s a communist,” or whatever. You can’t say that women’s health isn’t important. You have to say “birth control is for sluts,” or something that means the same thing, but allows you to say that “this isn’t a war on women.”

But with gay people, you can openly discriminate against them, and find a bunch of lawmakers who will applaud you. It’s not going to cost you a job. Nobody is going to pull your funding. Hell, North Carolina just put it in their constitution that it’s okay to deny gay people a basic civil right. How sick is that? A constitutional amendment that one group of people doesn’t have the same rights as other groups of people. Even the president basically said that while he personally didn’t hate gay people, it was still cool for each state to determine its own level of antipathy toward gay people, and legislate accordingly.

In that world, it’s not a huge surprise that the Commonwealth of Virginia just voted against a judicial appointment for an openly gay prosecutor because he is gay. That’s it. Not “he’s gay and also a terrible prosecutor,” not even “he’s gay and nobody likes him.” Just being gay was enough for the Virginia House to deny this man an appointment everybody agreed he was qualified for.

We’re living in a society where “f*** them queers” is an entirely valid political, social, and legal argument….

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Say hello to Justice Liu.

Congratulations to Goodwin Liu — until today Professor Liu, but after today, Justice Liu.

In July, California Governor Jerry Brown nominated the 40-year-old Liu, a law professor at Boalt Hall, to serve on the California Supreme Court. The nomination was subject to the approval of a three-member state commission.

What did the commission have to say about the Liu nomination?

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Sheryl Sandberg

* Shocker: tenured law professors are well-paid (check out their median salaries), and they enjoy high job satisfaction. [TaxProf Blog]

* Congratulations to David Boies and Ted Olson on winning the American Bar Association Medal, for their remarkable work on Perry v. Schwarzenegger (aka the Prop 8 case). [American Foundation for Equal Rights]

* In other LGBT news, lawyer turned pundit Ann Coulter makes nice with the gays, claiming her crown as the “Queen of Fabulous.” [Poliglot / Metro Weekly]

* Meanwhile, the Queen of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, gets profiled by the New Yorker. Here is Professor Christine Hurt’s take. [The Conglomerate]

* In the law firm world, beauty contests pit one law firm against another. In the strip-club world, beauty contests pit one vajayjay against another. [Fashionista]

Harry Wellington

* If you leave your bag of meth at the tanning salon, don’t go back for it. [Legal Blog Watch]

* The London riots show how technology and social media can be used to commit or to combat criminal activity. [Associate's Mind]

* Obama is taking his time on judicial nominations but at least he’s promoting diversity, reports John Schwartz. [New York Times]

* The ideas that Zach Shemtob and I discussed in our NYT op-ed are explored in greater detail in this (mercifully short) piece for the Tennessee Law Review. [SSRN]

* Harry Wellington, former dean of Yale Law School and New York Law School, RIP. [Yale Law School]

We recently imagined a scenario in which Professor Goodwin Liu, the controversial Boalt Hall law prof whose Ninth Circuit nomination was successfully filibustered, became Justice Goodwin Liu. It now looks like this might happen earlier than we had expected.

But he would be a justice on a non-SCOTUS court (for now). California Governor Jerry Brown just nominated Professor Liu, 40, to serve on the California Supreme Court.

How might Goodwin Liu’s nomination be received by the people of California? He’s smart, he’s liberal — er, progressive — but there’s one potential rub….

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As the first openly gay man to be confirmed as a federal judge, he will be a symbol of how much we have achieved as a country in just the last few decades. And importantly, he will give hope to many talented young lawyers who until now thought their paths might be limited because of their sexual orientation. When Paul becomes Judge Oetken, he will be living proof to all those young lawyers that it really does get better.

– Senator Chuck Schumer, commenting on the confirmation yesterday of Paul Oetken to serve as a judge on the Southern District of New York, by a Senate vote of 80-13.

(Because we are fair and balanced here at Above the Law, we offer a decidedly different perspective on the Oetken confirmation, after the jump.)

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Christine Quinn

As we all await a vote on gay marriage in New York, the New York Observer came out with a wonderful list: the 50 most powerful gay people in New York. They’ve called them “power gays,” and that, my friends, is just fun to say. Here, I’ll use it in a scene.

OLD GUY: Is that guy over there… a gay?
ELIE: No. He’s a POWER gay.

The number one most powerful gay person in New York is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. That makes sense. Christine Quinn could well be the next mayor of New York City, and unlike other potential NYC mayoral candidates, she doesn’t have a penis that can be photographed and disseminated over Twitter.

But, more relevant for our purposes, the power gays include a number of lawyers….

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One of [my handlers during my confirmation process] said, ‘You know, you might want to apologize for some of the things you wrote.’ I said to him, ‘Can we get one thing straight? I am not apologizing.’

I’ve lived the life I’ve wanted to live. I’ve said the things I’ve wanted to say. If you really want me to say I’m sorry, I’ll say, ‘I’m sorry that my life’s work has been misunderstood.’

Harold Koh, current Legal Adviser to the State Department and former Dean of Yale Law School, in recent remarks he delivered at the American Constitution Society’s annual convention. (In the same speech, Koh voiced support for Yale Law graduate Goodwin Liu, whose Ninth Circuit nomination was successfully filibustered.)

That’s very impressive support. Off the top of my head, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. Washington is a small place, and informal channels will generally get word back to the relevant folks in the Senate without a public letter…. But the fact that so many conservative former clerks publicly support [Alison] Nathan’s nomination [to the S.D.N.Y.] is quite impressive.

– Professor Orin Kerr, commenting on a letter signed by 27 former Supreme Court clerks in support of the nomination of Alison J. Nathan, a former law clerk to Justice John Paul Stevens who has been nominated to a judgeship on the Southern District of New York.

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