Samuel Alito

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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SCOTUS has spoken on S&C's screw-up.

We’ve previously written about the mailroom of death at Sullivan & Cromwell. To make a long story short (read our prior posts for the full background), a mailroom mix-up at 125 Broad Street caused an Alabama death-row inmate to miss a deadline for filing an appeal. The Eleventh Circuit rejected the condemned man’s attempt to reopen his case.

Presumably feeling bad for what had happened, S&C appealed to the Supreme Court. The firm hired a leading SCOTUS advocate — former Solicitor General Gregory Garre, now a partner at Latham & Watkins — to argue that prisoner Cory Maples shouldn’t forfeit his life because of S&C’s screw-up.

This morning, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Maples v. Thomas. What did the high court have to say?

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If Learned Hand’s opinions are like the products of a bespoke tailor, the opinions coming out of the Ninth Circuit are like the products of a factory that is staffed by machines and menial workers who are overseen from afar by a handful of overworked managers.

– Justice Samuel Alito, in a recent speech at Rutgers School of Law (Newark), lamenting the decline of craftsmanship in judicial opinions.

(An interesting fact about Justice Alito and the Ninth Circuit, after the jump.)

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Would you like some doc review with that?

* How can you pick a side when it comes to fairness and the law? Can you straddle the fence? Don’t ask Justice Alito, because he’s still not really sure what the answers are. [New York Times]

* Paul Ceglia is finding out the hard way that court orders aren’t like annoying Facebook friend requests. You can’t just tell your lawyers to ignore them and hope they’ll go away. [Bloomberg]

* From occupying Wall Street to occupying the courts? 99% lawyers are threatening to clog up the courts if their demands aren’t met. At least they’d have a toilet to do it in. [New York Daily News]

* “If your choice is between going to Liberty Law or working a deep-fat fryer, you might as well go to Liberty, right?” Lat, I think we really need to have a chat. [Commercial Appeal]

* If I had a dollar for every dude who had an Asian adventure involving a Thai ladyboy, I’d be rich, but it doesn’t mean that The Hangover II was based on their exploits. [Hollywood Reporter]

Celebrity Skin: a great album, by the way.

Last month, we asked: Who are this year’s celebrity summer associates? In recent years, major law firms have hosted famous figures as summer associates, including a successful author, a not-so-successful author, and a reality TV beauty.

This year, the celebrity wattage is considerably lower. But there are still a few notable names floating out there (and we welcome additional submissions, by email). For example, we recently wrote about actor Wai Choy, a former co-star of Lindsay Lohan who is now summering at Proskauer in New York.

Our next celebrity summer associate isn’t super-famous in his own right (even though he’s as good-looking as many a Hollywood actor). Instead, he derives his celebrity from a famous father.

So who is he, and where does he work?

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Justice Stephen G. Breyer

Are justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gods, or men? There’s evidence on both sides. Their brilliant legal minds and dazzling résumés weigh in favor of deity designation. Their ability to make mistakes suggests that they’re mere mortals.

Supreme Court justices: they’re just like us! They get into accidents — as Justice Stephen Breyer did over Memorial Day weekend, while riding his bicycle near his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Justice Breyer broke his right collarbone in the incident — ouch (and more evidence to support my dislike of cycling).

This isn’t even the first vehicular mishap for one of the nine in 2011. As you may recall, Justice Antonin Scalia got in a car accident, back in March — and received a ticket for it.

Physical accidents involving federal judges might not be shocking; brainiacs aren’t known for their grace and agility. But ethical oversights might be more surprising.

Let’s look at the latest controversy involving Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. — and whether the hubbub is justified….

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Justice Kennedy says: 'Open Sesame.'

It’s late May, so we’re entering the home stretch of the Supreme Court Term. Over the next few weeks, the Court will be handing down opinions in the most contentious, closely divided cases.

One such opinion came down today: Brown v. Plata (formerly Schwarzenegger v. Plata). In this high-profile case, a three-judge district court issued an order that directed the State of California to reduce its prison population — e.g., by releasing prisoners (as many as 46,000, at the time of the order) — in order to address problems with overcrowding and poor health care for inmates.

When SCOTUS granted cert, I thought that it did so in order to summarily reverse. Federal judges running penal institutions, ordering tens of thousands of convicted criminals to be let out onto the streets? The district court’s order reeked of the kind of Ninth Circuit liberal activism that doesn’t sit well with the Roberts Court. (Note that one of the members of the three-judge panel was the notoriously left-wing Judge Stephen Reinhardt.)

Well, I was wrong. The Court just affirmed, 5-4, in an opinion by (who else?) Justice Anthony Kennedy.

There were two dissents, by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. Justice Scalia’s opinion in particular contains some stinging (but ultimately ineffectual) benchslaps….

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It might interest you to know that if I were still an active justice, I would have joined [Justice Alito's] powerful dissent in the recent case holding that the intentional infliction of severe emotional harm is constitutionally protected speech. The case… involved a verbal assault on the private citizens attending the funeral of their son — a Marine corporal killed in Iraq. To borrow Sam’s phrase, the First Amendment does not transform solemn occasions like funerals into ‘free-fire zones.’

– Justice John Paul Stevens, in a recent speech to the Federal Bar Council in New York City, explaining how he would have voted with Justice Samuel Alito in Snyder v. Phelps (aka the Westboro Baptist Church case).

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