Senate Judiciary Committee

Alberto Gonzales 2 Attorney General Alberto R Gonzales Above the Law blog.JPGAttorney General Alberto Gonzales may be slightly more secure in his position these days than in the recent past, when it was looking like “Gonzales” was Spanish for “canned.” But he’s not out of the woods yet — which is why speculation about possible successors continues.
Ben Wittes, writing for TNR Online, has some excellent insights. His overall take:

[B]etween a sinking administration that still demands loyalty above all else and congressional Democrats keen on using their new oversight powers, finding a candidate who satisfies both sides will be hard. The next attorney general must be someone acceptable enough to Democrats not just to get confirmed but to tamp down the fire Gonzales has witlessly set.

But he must also be enough of a conservative to satisfy the White House. And he needs a reputation for probity and moral seriousness sufficient to speak to the public and to Congress with the respect that Gonzales obviously lacks. It’s a tall order–a pinch so tight that it squeezes out almost all of the names being bandied about in public.

Wittes then marches through various possible nominees. Discussion continues, after the jump.

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Time for a few updates on a subject near and dear to our heart, which we’ve been neglecting as of late: federal judicial nominations. Here’s the latest news:
Jennifer Elrod Judge Jennifer W Elrod Above the Law blog.jpg1. Texas state court judge Jennifer Elrod (at right), whom we previously identified as a possible nominee to the Fifth Circuit (and compared to Jennifer Aniston), has been officially nominated to that court. We’ve heard good things about Judge Elrod and wish her the best of luck in the confirmation process.
2. Connecticut state court judge Vanessa Bryant, discussed previously here, has been confirmed to the District of Connecticut.
3. Earlier this month, the White House sent a raft of judicial nominations over to the Senate. Nothing terribly exciting.
The two most controversial nominees in the bunch: state court judge Janet Neff (D. Mich.), and trial lawyer Richard Honaker (D. Wyo.). They may generate opposition on opposite sides of the aisle. Neff got a lot of grief from the conservative Sen. Sam Brownback for having attended a lesbian commitment ceremony. Honaker may be targeted by liberals for his record of strong opposition to abortion.
Here’s a random bit of trivia about Honaker: he was a Harvard classmate of Al Franken. If Honaker runs into opposition from liberals (despite being a trial lawyer and card-carrying member of ATLA), will Franken testify in his defense before the Senate Judiciary Committee?
(The article also mentions Billy Crystal, but we don’t believe Billy Crystal went to Harvard.)
Update: HA! The Billy Crystal mystery is revealed. Check out this comment.
Nomination Sent to the Senate [WhiteHouse.gov]
Nominations Confirmed [Senate.gov via How Appealing]
Nominations Sent to the Senate [WhiteHouse.gov]
Harris County civil judge nominated to federal bench [Houston Chronicle]
Bush renominates five Michiganians to federal judgeships [Detroit News]
Thomas announces judgeship nomination for Rock Springs lawyer [Casper Star-Tribune via How Appealing]

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has just announced that the Republicans have objected, under Senate rules, to the Kyle Sampson hearings continuing any further.
The committee, which returned from lunch at around 1:45, now stands in recess. We’ll keep you posted.
Update (2:42 PM): And we’re back. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is questioning Kyle Sampson.

(We were a little distracted by a technical glitch with the site that some commenters pointed out. But we think it has been fixed now, so we’re back to blogging on the hearings.)
Since our last post, there have been some exciting developments. Sen. Pat Leahy’s questioning was pretty boring; he walked Sampson through a bunch of emails, deposition-style.
But things got more interesting when Sen. Arlen Specter took over. Playing his role as Senate moderate, he asked some questions that could be viewed as friendly, and some as hostile. Senator Specter got Sampson to admit that some of Alberto Gonzales’s prior testimony was not consistent with Sampson’s recollection.
Things got even hotter during Sen. Chuck Schumer’s questioning. In a “yes or no,” Perry Mason-esque line of cross-examination, Senator Schumer got Sampson to admit — under oath, and with apparent reluctance — that several of AG Gonzales’s prior statements were “not accurate,” or at least not consistent with Sampson’s recollection. Ruh-roh…
You could tell that Senator Schumer was scoring points because Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a smart and savvy former prosecutor and judge, piped up in the middle of Schumer’s questioning. Senator Cornyn angrily protested that Sen. Schumer was being unfair in not allowing Kyle Sampson, a witness testifying under oath, to answer questions fully. Exciting stuff!
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) is trying too hard. It seems like he is looking for something to be upset about.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sounds like Alec Baldwin with a lisp. He is vaguely ridiculous.
Okay, it’s lunchtime. In recess until 1:45 PM.
Earlier: Kyle Sampson Inside the Lions’ Den

D Kyle Sampson Kyle Sampson Kyle D Sampson Kyle Samson Above the Law blog.jpgWe’re liveblogging the Kyle Sampson testimony. Our commentary will be added continuously to this post, so just refresh your browser for the latest.
We have high expectations — and we’re not alone. From the NYT:

“I think it will be the most interesting testimony we have heard since Professor Hill,” Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said as he recalled Anita F. Hill’s appearance in the confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas for a Supreme Court seat. “I can’t think of anyone else who has quite the drama.”

(Of course, some are trying to dial down expectations. Sen. Chuck Schumer is warning us that the Sampson testimony probably won’t produce the proverbial “smoking gun.”)
Our commentary on the hearing, plus links to various news accounts, will appear after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Kyle Sampson Inside the Lions’ Den”

Shanetta Cutlar 2 Shanetta Y Cutlar Shanetta Brown Cutlar DOJ SPL Special Litigation Section Civil Rights Division.jpgSome of you have wondered about the drop-off in ATL coverage of our favorite DOJ diva: Shanetta Y. Cutlar, Chief of the Special Litigation Section at the U.S. Department of Justice (“SPL”). Cutlar has been previously described in these pages as “deliciously imperious” and “a great diva,” and we’ve published a number of colorful stories about her.
We haven’t written much about Shanetta Cutlar lately because we haven’t gotten many new tips about her. Perhaps she’s keeping a low profile these days?
Fortunately, more grist for the SYC mill may be on its way, courtesy of Capitol Hill. From a tipster:

House Judiciary has an oversight hearing for Civil Rights next week. Not sure what day, but I’m trying to find out. I think SPL may be discussed.

And from another source:

The “scandal” of the firing of the US Attys will be the camel’s nose — a way to have full blown congressional hearings on DOJ, especially Civil Rights.

Oooh, exciting! We do hope that the House and Senate Judiciary Committees start sniffing around the Special Litigation Section. Maybe Chuck Schumer will become our truffle pig, unearthing tasty morsels about Shanetta Cutlar and her reign over SPL.
If you have any info about the upcoming oversight hearing — or, for that matter, any updates on what Shanetta Cutlar has been up to lately — please email us. Thanks.
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Shanetta Cutlar (scroll down)

Above the Law 8 Janice Rogers Brown.JPG
“I wouldn’t call Harry Edwards a ‘judicial divo,’ per se. He’s just really irritable, that’s all.”
This is a continuation of our earlier post about a luncheon talk by the fantabulous Judge Janice Rogers Brown. Judge Brown sits on the D.C. Circuit, the most prestigious appellate court in the country after the U.S. Supreme Court (which she may someday join). She spoke recently before the Federalist Society in Washington, a group that she said she “always enjoys spending time with — despite all the trouble it gets [her] into.”
Discussion and pictures, after the jump.

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“You mean to tell me that this guy has argued before the Supreme Court? This guy, in the button-down shirt? Seriously?”
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Here are the remaining photos from our recent Movie Night With Justice Breyer. The first batch was posted over here.
As we previously explained, these pictures are pretty awful — dark and blurry. Because of all the priceless art lying around, we weren’t allowed use a flash inside the darkened precincts of the Phillips Collection.
And we’re not great at photography to begin with. And we could use a better camera. (Did you catch that, Sony and Canon publicists?)
But if you’re looking for a break from all the law firm pay raise coverage, maybe you’ll appreciate them. Check them out, after the jump.

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alberto gonzales alberto r gonzales attorney general.JPG* AG Gonzales: Federal judges are unqualified to make national security decisions. [MSNBC]
* AG Gonzales: Federal judges should be making national security decisions. [MSNBC; Washington Post]
* Affirmative action takes center stage at Boalt. [WSJ Law Blog]
* Dahlia asks, “Have the Supreme Court’s opinions become suggestions in Texas?” [
Slate]
* Linda discusses the Texas death penalty cases as well. [New York Times]
* Former Cendant Chairman Walter Forbes get sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison, on accounting fraud charges. The prosecution was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey; Forbes was represented by Williams & Connolly. [WSJ Law Blog]
* Picking a jury for the Scooter Libby trial in D.C., the biggest small town in America: it ain’t easy. [Washington Post]

Shanetta Cutlar Above the Law Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Section Above the Law.jpgThe Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department — one of the DOJ’s most important arms, charged with enforcing our nation’s anti-discrimination laws — has been experiencing some upheaval over the past few years. Several articles in the Washington Post have examined some of the conflicts within the division. See, e.g., here, here, and here.
We’ve learned that Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee may be taking a closer look at what’s going on over at the Civil Rights Division. And when they do, some of their attention may focus on the Special Litigation Section, headed by Shanetta Y. Cutlar.
Here’s an explanation of the Section’s mission, from its website:

[The Section is] charged with enforcing federal civil rights statutes in four major areas: Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons, Conduct of Law Enforcement Agencies, Access to Reproductive Health Clinics and places of Religious Worship, and Religious Exercise of Institutionalized Persons. The Section undertakes investigations and litigation through the United States and its territories.

The Section Chief is Shanetta Cutlar, an award-winning litigatrix. And even though some attorneys and staff members have alleged that she’s “abusive” — what a subjective word! — Cutlar is a woman after our own heart. There’s nothing we love more than a high-powered female who takes charge of a situation and demands respect from her subordinates. We adore women in leadership roles who follow the teaching of Machiavelli: “[I]t is far safer to be feared than loved.”
A former attorney in the Special Litigation Section, Ty Clevenger — a Stanford Law grad and former law clerk to the highly esteemed Judge Morris Arnold (8th Cir.) — had some issues with Cutlar and how she ran the Section. Last fall, Clevenger sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty. Clevenger alleged that Cutlar — whom he described as “extremely intelligent” and “very charming,” but also “a Jekyll and Hyde personality” — created an “atmosphere of fear and paranoia” within the Section.
On October 4, 2006, Ty Clevenger sent his letter to McNulty. Clevenger’s office was searched overnight, and he was fired the next day. He is in the process of filing a whistleblower complaint.
Here’s the first page of Clevenger’s letter to the DAG:
Shanetta Cutlar Paul McNulty 1.jpg
There’s more. Juicy details about La Shanetta’s alleged behavior are described in the rest of Ty Clevenger’s letter. The letter has been distributed to all the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee (with supporting documentation).
We reprint the entire Clevenger letter, which a source helpfully leaked provided to us, after the jump.

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