Judicial Nominations

Specter Switches parties.jpgArlen Specter (R-PA), is switching parties. Politico reports:

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter is switching parties so he can run in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, abandoning his party because he does not want to be “judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate.”

Specter is the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee (chaired by Patrick Leahy).

It will be interesting to see who replaces him as the Republican leader against future Obama judicial nominations. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) used to chair the committee. John Kyl (R-AZ) has been making a lot of news. Chuck Grassley recently became famous for his stance on banker suicide. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) might be a little young for the post.

The early money on the street is on Kyl. The Republican party seems to be listing right and Kyl has been out in front of that movement.

The back and forth on the Judiciary is important for lawyers (how much fun do you think Elena Kagan is having today), but obviously the bigger news is that Specter could be the 60th Senate vote for the soon-to-be filibuster proof Obama agenda.

The move stands to put the White House’s agenda on a fast track — and to renew hopes among organized labor for the Employee Free Choice Act.

The move also raises the stakes for the resolution of the Minnesota Senate race and may tempt Republicans to drag that fight on further.

Political expediency could be the name of the game for Specter. More details after the jump.

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* Apparently the President of the United States is somehow involved in the judicial nomination process. [The Weekly Standard via How Appealing]
* Too much litigation? Blame all those conservative trial lawyers. [WSJ Law Blog]
* Vick’s state trial date will be set today. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
* Nevada tries to smoke out some justice. [Reno Gazette-Journal]
* How tough can you be on protestors at a free speech debate? [BBC]

Alex Kozinski David Lat.jpgWe now yield the floor to Laurie Lin. Who better to report on one of the year’s biggest social events than the writer of Legal Eagle Wedding Watch? Over to you, Laurie.
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Ambition and Old Spice wafted sweetly through the air last night at the Federalist Society’s 25th Anniversary Gala at Union Station — a kind of right-wing Golden Globes. Nearly two thousand G-ed up conservative lawyers packed the main hall to hear President George W. Bush blast the Senate on judicial confirmations:

“Today, good men and women nominated to the federal bench are finding that inside the Beltway, too many interpret ‘advise and consent’ to mean ‘search and destroy,’” Bush said.

Tickets to the black-tie affair were $250 — actually $249, because there was a new $1 Madison coin at every place setting — but that was a small price to pay to breathe the same oxygen as Ted Olson, Antonin Scalia, and Laura Ingraham.
More on the conservative legal fabulosity — including pictures of the people who didn’t hide when they saw us coming — after the jump.

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E Duncan Getchell Jr Fourth Circuit Above the Law blog.jpgIt’s tough being a federal judicial nominee. Your entire legal career is gone over with a fine-toothed comb, and every mistake or misstep is brought to light, no matter how minor.
From the ABA Journal:

A lawyer nominated to a federal appeals court was lead attorney on an $8 million appeal that got tossed because the trial transcript was not filed by the deadline.

E. Duncan Getchell Jr. of McGuireWoods asked the Virginia Supreme Court to hear the appeal anyway, but the judges refused, the Virginian-Pilot reports. Getchell’s five-page brief did not explain the reason for the failure, except to say there was a “miscommunication or misunderstanding.”

Perhaps there was a misunderstanding about whether trial counsel or appellate counsel (Getchell) should have filed the transcript. From the Virginian-Pilot:

The fact that Getchell’s firm filed the post-trial motions three weeks after the verdict “kind of suggests the baton was passed,” said William S. Geimer, a professor emeritus at Washington and Lee University Law School who teaches civil procedure.

“It’s definitely the law firm’s responsibility,” Geimer said. “I don’t see any way for the law firm to escape responsibility if it was even partly or jointly responsible for the failure.”

Getchell did not return repeated calls to his office.

The Fourth Circuit has been shorthanded for a while now. And with the nomination of Duncan Getchell, that probably won’t be changing anytime soon.
(Not necessarily because of this procedural snafu, but because Getchell’s two home-state senators — John Warner (R) and Jim Webb (D) — don’t seem to be backing his nomination.)
Costly Error Linked to 4th Circuit Nominee [ABA Journal via Blogonaut]
Error in major case tied to federal judge nominee [Virginian-Pilot via How Appealing]
E. Duncan Getchell Jr. bio [McGuire Woods]

Harriet Miers Harriet E Miers Harriet Ellan Miers Harriet Elan Miers Above the Law.JPGSigh. Too much to write about, not enough time (or energy). We should have written about this on Tuesday. But since we didn’t, we now have the luxury of assembling a post by commenting on what other people have already written — and snarkily noting that they all say the same thing.
It all started with this article from the Washington Post (via the Huffington Post):

It was John G. Roberts Jr., now the chief justice of the United States, who suggested [Harriet] Miers to Bush as a possible Supreme Court justice, according to the [new] book [Dead Certain, an examination of the Bush presidency, by Robert Draper].

Miers, the White House counsel and a Bush loyalist from Texas, did not want the job, but Bush and first lady Laura Bush prevailed on her to accept the nomination, Draper writes.

Sounds juicy, right? But not so fast.
If you’re already familiar with this controversy, you can probably skip the rest of this post. But if not — or if you are, but want some commentary on the commentary — you can read more after the jump.

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Nina Totenberg small NPR Georgetown Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.JPGEver since our original request for colorful stories about the delicious Nina Totenberg, the doyenne (or maybe the dean?) of the Supreme Court press corps, we’ve experienced an avalanche of anecdotes about this larger-than-life legal journalist.
We still have a few reports in the queue. Here’s the latest contribution:

Any discussion of Totenberg must include John Hockenberry’s recountings of her diva-like attitude around the NPR newsroom. He writes about her in his well-known memoir, Moving Violations. Note that Hockenberry implies Totenberg will ruin the career of anyone who crosses her. [Ed. note: YIKES.]

Go to Amazon and search for “Totenberg” in the book, John Hockenberry, Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence. Starting around page 174, you’ll read this…

If you haven’t tired of reading about Ms. Nina — we know we haven’t, but everyone’s different — check out the rest of this post, after the jump.

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* When the music stopped, Craig Morford, interim U.S. attorney in Nashville, was left standing. So now Morford must fill Paul McNulty’s uncomfortable shoes as Deputy Attorney General — after several others apparently passed on the job. [Washington Post; New York Times]
* New Jersey lawyer Shalom Stone may need to be as charming as Shalom Harlow to win confirmation to the Third Circuit. [The Hill (ATL shout-out!) via How Appealing]
* Dow Jones director David Li could be in trouble with the SEC. Oh Wells. [DealBreaker]
* Go shorty. [MSNBC]

car wreck car crash Above the Law blog.jpgHe’s not a judge yet, so we can’t bestow our coveted Judge of the Day award upon him. But he has secured the Democratic nomination for a judgeship, in Philadelphia — which means he has a decent shot of being elected.
Then again, whether Willie Singletary gets elected to the bench may depend upon how much the electorate appreciates irony. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Willie Singletary won a Democratic nomination for Traffic Court last week despite being a scofflaw of major proportions.

As of primary day, Singletary, 26, owed $11,427.50 for 55 violations, including reckless driving, driving without a license, careless driving, driving without registration, and driving without insurance.

In fact, a bench warrant had been issued for his arrest – a fact made public after the election by Bernard Strain, who lost in the Democratic primary for Traffic Court but who won a Republican nomination.

A little more discussion, after the jump.

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Noel Hillman Noel L Hillman Noel Lawrence Hillman Noel Laurence Hillman judge Above the Law.jpgBack in December, we suggested that Judge Noel Hillman (D.N.J.) was probably going to be nominated to the Third Circuit. We wrote: “[N]ominating Judge Hillman to the court of appeals actually makes political sense for the White House — especially in its current, weakened state…. Picking a nominee who made it through the Senate just a few months ago would be a shrewd move. Since the two New Jersey senators supported Hillman for the district court, it would be awkward for them to oppose him for the circuit court now.”
But things appear to have changed. From the Newark Star-Ledger:

In an abrupt about-face, President Bush has decided against nominating Noel Hillman, a veteran prosecutor and now federal judge in Camden, to the seat on the 3d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that was held by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr….

Hillman confirmed the news. He said the speculation about his possible elevation to the court of appeals was “flattering,” adding he now has “every confidence that our president will choose someone for the current vacancy worthy of his trust, worthy of the position, and worthy of Senate confirmation.”

Some questions for our readers:

1. What’s behind the White House’s change of heart? Was it, as suggested by the Star-Ledger, concern “that Hillman’s Senate confirmation hearing could become an inquisition into the behind-the-scenes operations of the Justice Department”? Or is there something more here, perhaps specific to Judge Hillman?

(If the White House is worried about Hillman hearings turning into another fishing expedition into the DOJ, we can hardly blame them. After all, look at all the dirty laundry that got aired when former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified yesterday. What a mess!)

2. Now that Judge Hillman is out of the running, who is likely to get the nod?

Please send us your tips by email (subject line: “Third Circuit”). Thanks.
The Auditor [Newark Star-Ledger via NJ.com]
President Intervened in Dispute Over Eavesdropping [New York Times]
Earlier: A Third Circuit Update

Jennifer Elrod 2 Judge Jennifer W Elrod Fifth Circuit Texas Above the Law blog.jpgAs we mentioned yesterday, Judge Jennifer W. Elrod, a state trial court judge in Texas, has been nominated to the Fifth Circuit. The Texas Lawyer has an interesting article about Judge Elrod:

Houston lawyers who have tried cases before [Judge Elrod] say she has earned a reputation as a fair and smart state district judge.

“I think the most disappointing factor about her getting nominated is losing her off the bench in Harris County,” says Stephen Boutros, a Houston plaintiffs attorney.

“She often won’t rule in my favor, but it doesn’t matter,” says Boutros of Stephen Boutros LTD. “I would rate her the top judge I’ve ever been in front of. She understands the law. She can get a grasp of the issues in a matter of moments as if it were her own case.”

Boutros believes Elrod has the potential to follow in the footsteps of [Judge Patrick] Higgonbotham — a seasoned and respected judge who was a moderating force on the 5th Circuit — a court known as one of the most conservative federal appellate courts in the nation.

“She’s going to be an absolute centrist,” Boutros says. “She is intellectually honest and she’s not an ideologue.”

Judge Elrod sounds like a great pick. Our only disappointment: that President Bush didn’t nominate this Jennifer Elrod instead.
(But then again, in terms of qualifications for the Fifth Circuit, a JD from Harvard Law is probably more relevant than a 36D from Boobs ‘R Us.)
P.S. To those of you who think that we overuse the term “diva,” please note that we have NOT applied the term to Jennifer Elrod. Based on what we’ve heard, she’s extremely nice and down-to-earth, with a great sense of humor.
190th District Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod Nominated to 5th Circuit [Texas Lawyer]
Earlier: Some Judicial Nomination News

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