Samuel Alito

Now there’s a cover boy for the conservative Tiger Beat.

Paul Clement must still be stinging from that Obamacare loss. The celebrated conservative lawyer and former Solicitor General seemed unbeatable after he managed to secure constitutional approval for the government to hold prisoners indefinitely while blasting Barry Manilow if the Vice President’s office says so.  People actually described him as the Michael Jordan of the law.

And then the Court upheld Obamacare. Even Jordan needed Pippen.

To reestablish his conservative street cred, Clement filed a petition with Justice Ginsburg to jump the line and put his case complaining about NLRB recess appointments, currently residing in a Connecticut district court, in front of the Supreme Court ahead of the high profile Noel Canning v. NLRB decision from the D.C. Circuit (discussed by Elie here).

Justice Ginsburg told Clement to pound sand.

What a diva!

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There is a 64 percent probability that at least one Supreme Court justice will die in the next four years….

– The ABA Journal, offering a rather grim assessment of the health and wellness of the justices of the nation’s highest court, based on Slate’s Supreme Court Justice Death Calculator. (You may want to start taking bets.)

[UPDATE: Hm...well it looks like everyone in D.C. (including Feinstein herself yesterday) was wrong. So she's sticking with her Intelligence chair. This assignment now becomes something of a "what might have been" exercise) Query: what changed? Why would Leahy not take Appropriations? Was he worried about turning Judiciary over to the more conservative Feinstein?]

Daniel Inouye, the second longest serving Senator in history, died on Monday. Inouye had represented the state of Hawaii in Congress as either a Representative or Senator since… well, forever. Inouye took office the day Hawaii became a state and never stopped. He was also an undisputed badass who wasted a German machine gun nest by prying a grenade from his own partially severed arm and throwing it at a guy trying to kill him! This was a more impressive response to having your arm severed that I would have.

But with the loss of Inouye, the Senate has to find a new chair for the powerful Appropriations Committee. Since the Democrats run on strict seniority, noted Batman enthusiast Patrick Leahy of Vermont jumped at that plum assignment.

And here’s where this all comes back to the law. By taking the Appropriations gig, Leahy had to forfeit his role as chair of the Judiciary Committee. Enter Dianne Feinstein, who will take over as the shepherd of the country’s legal policy making for the next Congress.

So what will a Feinstein-led committee look like?

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Justice Samuel Alito

Where did we go wrong?

– Justice Samuel A. Alito, imagining the reaction of Yale Law School professors to the fact that he and Justice Clarence Thomas were, for a time, the two YLS graduates on the Supreme Court. Justice Alito delivered the keynote address last night at the annual dinner of the Federalist Society.

(Additional highlights from Justice Alito’s speech, after the jump.)

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I’m always amazed by the ability of the American public to contradict themselves. People hate Congress, but consistently reelect their Congressmen. People want more government services, but don’t support tax increases. The say they hate negative ads, but allow them to be incredibly effective.

Today is Constitution Day, and the Associated Press has a new poll that’s giving Americans a chance to express their contradictory views about our beloved organizing document.

One “headline” from the poll: nearly 70% of Americans believe the Constitution is an “enduring” document that doesn’t need to be “modernized.” Although that number is going down.

So it’s perfect the way it is, except for the parts that people don’t like….

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Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

I thought this was a wonderful idea. Why don’t we implement this in the United States? Until I found out that at the end of the process they actually unlock the door and they let them out.

– Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, riffing on the Supreme Court of Canada’s practice of briefing reporters on new rulings inside of a locked room, in remarks he delivered at Roger Williams University School of Law.

The Supreme Court session starts at 10:00 a.m. At 9:55, a tall man with broad shoulders and little neck — a man with an ear piece running out of the back of his suit coat — tells everyone in the Courtroom to be quiet and stay in their seats until the session is over. The room quiets.

This is the calm before the storm. No one expects any of this term’s true blockbusters to be announced today – there will be no health care decision, no ruling on the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act, no ruling on whether Arizona gets to codify its very strong dislike of immigrants.

During this time, those who watch the Court are scanning for signs of either discord or harmony. Even a concert at the Court invites scrutiny of which Justice is chummier with which other Justice. The Supreme Court watching world is like a group of eight-year-olds in the week before Christmas, sniffing the presents under the tree and trying to hunt through their parents’ closets. It’s dignified.

The Courtroom is silent after the broad man quiets us. And then, growing louder, we hear voices. Male voices. And laughter, booming male laughter, as the Chief and Justice Scalia emerge through the parted curtains, and Court is called to order.

What does the laughter mean? Is Obamacare all but destroyed? Is a secret deal finally sealed? Or did the Chief Justice share a bit of ribald humor from his native Indiana?

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What business does a case like that have in the courts of the United States?

– Justice Samuel Alito, during today’s oral arguments in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum. The case will determine whether the 223-year-old Alien Tort Statute allows corporations to be sued in U.S. courts for violations of international law. You can view the entire argument transcript on the SCOTUS website.

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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The Supreme Court just handed down a unanimous opinion ruling in one of the most closely watched cases of the year. All the justices agreed on the result, but diverged significantly in reasoning.

This morning, the court issued its decision in United States v. Jones. Police in Washington, D.C. placed a GPS tracking device on the car of Antoine Jones, a nightclub owner, without obtaining a warrant. The GPS device helped law enforcement link Jones to a house used to store drugs and money. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison. An appeals court later overturned his conviction.

The central issue in Jones was whether attaching a GPS device to a car (i.e., allowing law enforcement 24/7 access to a person’s movements), without obtaining a warrant first, violated the Fourth Amendment.

The case has been heralded as one of the most important privacy cases in recent memory. Wired’s Threat Level blog said Jones “is arguably the biggest Fourth Amendment case in the computer age.” Editor emerita Kashmir Hill attended oral arguments for the case back in November.

What did the justices say? The ruling might surprise you…

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