Supreme Court

Today Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer made a rare appearance on Capitol Hill to testify before the House Appropriations Subcommittee, regarding the Court’s budget. It started out jovially, with Justice Thomas poking fun at Justice Breyer for agreeing with him for the very first time (at the 15 minute mark, regarding taking questions from the committee).

But an hour in, things got testy between the congressmen and the justices. Josh Blackman brought to our attention that the issue of Supreme Court clerk diversity came up. Congressman Ander Crenshaw asked the Justices why the members of the Elect are overwhelmingly graduates from Yale and Harvard. He delicately asked if they’re more qualified or if there are a disproportionate number of them applying for clerkships.

This led to a fifteen-minute discussion about clerkship diversity that started with alma maters, then moved to ethnic diversity. In response, Thomas threw the other SCOTUS justices under the bus (e.g., “MY clerks are diverse”), then threw feeder judges under the bus, and then threw law schools under the bus (e.g., “that pool comes from the law schools”).

But then Congresswoman Barbara Lee hit him with the bus…

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office of solicitor general.gifIn our reader poll on possible Supreme Court nominees — which is still open, by the way — Solicitor General Elena Kagan is leading the pack, at least in terms of the predictive poll. At the current time, a majority of respondents believe that she will be nominated by President Obama to the seat of Justice John Paul Stevens. (On the prescriptive side, i.e., who SHOULD be nominated to replace JPS, a plurality of you want to see Judge Diane Wood get the nod.)

So Kagan may soon be leaving the SG’s office. But new talent is coming aboard, starting in September or so, through the Bristow Fellowship program. These staggeringly prestigious fellowships allow recent law school graduates, typically coming out of clerkships with federal appellate judges (often feeder judges), to get involved in the work of the Solicitor General’s office, representing the United States before the Supreme Court.

We’re a little late in bringing you the news of the Bristow hires — they were notified weeks (even months) ago — but better late than never. A reader email reminded us that we hadn’t covered the announcement. So we did some digging and obtained their names.

So who are the new Bristow Fellows? Do we know their law schools and clerkships?

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The speculation continues over who will be nominated to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court. If you’re looking to follow all the latest news and rumor, in addition to reading the usual suspects, like SCOTUSblog, check out the particularly comprehensive coverage over at The Ninth Justice, a blog of the National Journal devoted to the hunt for the next Supreme Court nominee.

According to Jan Crawford of CBS News (and several other reporters), the White House is currently considering about ten possible nominees. Most of the names being bandied about are familiar, especially the three leading candidates: Judge Merrick Garland, 57, of the D.C. Circuit; Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49; and Judge Diane Wood, 59, of the Seventh Circuit. Professor Orin Kerr has a very funny post over at the Volokh Conspiracy showing just how “diverse” this trio is.

One notable name is out of the running: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The White House has indicated that it’s very happy with the work Secretary Clinton is doing in her current post, according to The Caucus blog.

And one notable name has been added to the SCOTUS speculation: Judge Sidney R. Thomas, of the Ninth Circuit (and next in line to lead that court, after current Chief Judge Alex Kozinski passes the gavel).

We know Judge Thomas — we clerked on the Ninth, presented cases to him on a screening panel, and hung out with him a bit at last year’s judicial conference — and we could see him as a Supreme Court nominee. He’s very smart and very progressive, but charming and strategic about his liberal politics, which can’t be said for all of his colleagues. In addition, as Jan Crawford notes, “he is a quintessential DC-outsider,” a graduate of the University of Montana law school whose nomination “would further a populist storyline.” So, even though he’s a white male from the Ninth Circuit — which would give Republican senators an opportunity to bash that (in)famously left-wing court — we could certainly see Judge Thomas as a possible nominee.

But a few former Ninth Circuit clerks whom we contacted about SRT (as he’s known on the Ninth) were more skeptical. Said one: “Can’t believe it is serious. Makes no sense. Some former clerk floated him for vanity purposes.”

As it turns out, a former Sid Thomas clerk might be involved in his appearance on the short list….

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Plus a pair of reader polls.

Potential Supreme Court nominees?

For weeks, the media laundry machine has been circulating news of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’s impending retirement. Now that the buzzer has gone off on that, it’s time to switch to the next cycle: speculation as to who President Barack Obama will nominate to replace him.

President Obama has been dragging his feet in his appointment of federal judges. We are relieved to hear that he is going to pick up the pace for announcing his Supreme Court pick. ABC News reports that the White House is prepared — thanks to Stevens’s public pondering — and that the announcement will come “within weeks.” Which isn’t really very helpful at all. Two weeks? Four weeks? Twelve weeks?

BLT reports on Obama’s speech from the Rose Garden today:

“While we cannot replace Justice Stevens’ experience or wisdom, I will seek someone in the coming weeks with similar qualities — an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, a fierce dedication to the rule of law, and a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people,” Obama said. “It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.”

Please make it fast, Obama. We’re ready to move on to the confirmation hearing cycle!

Let’s speculate until then, though…

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Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is done with his teasing. He’s been hinting for weeks that he could announce his plans to retire at any moment. Today, he finally made it official.

He sent a letter to President Barack Obama this morning — available after the jump — consisting of a single sentence (Souter did it with two):

Having concluded that it would be in the best interests of the Court to have my successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the Court’s next Term, I shall retire from regular active service as an Associate Justice, under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 371(b), effective the next day after the Court rises for the summer recess this year.

This means Obama will have his second opportunity to make an addition to the Supreme Court. U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan is considered by many to be the frontrunner for the nomination.

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With apologies to John Paul “I’m not dead yet” Stevens, speculation has been rampant about who will replace him, if he decides to retire.

Many of the names that came up after Souter retired are bubbling back to the surface, but U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan has to be considered the front runner. Obama hasn’t said anything and Stevens is, you know, still there — but that didn’t stop the Harvard Crimson from handicapping the chances of former Harvard Law School Dean Kagan:

In the face of Justice John Paul Stevens’ impending retirement, the nomination of former Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan for the open seat on the Supreme Court has become a likely prospect.

If she is selected as President Barack Obama’s nominee, Kagan—who currently serves as the nation’s first female Solicitor General—will face a number of challenges on the road toward confirmation, including her lack of experience as a judge, her religious background, and her stance on the military.

Man, the “impending retirement” of J.P. Stevens is turning into a a Monty Python skit. But, so long as we’re here, let’s take another look at that religious question. It might be the only thing that could scuttle Kagan’s ascendancy to the high Court…

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After yesterday’s report on the latest developments in Supreme Court clerk hiring, we received word of several new hires, both by email and in the comments. So we thought we’d do a quick follow-up to pass along what we’ve heard.

Please keep in mind that we have not verified every hire to 100 percent accuracy; corrections may be posted later. This information is unofficial; the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office does not release the official list of October Term clerks until the immediately preceding summer.

With these caveats in mind, let’s take a look at the latest news, shall we?

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Supreme Court hallway Above the Law Above the Law Above the Law.JPGSupreme Court clerk hiring is once again in the news. This subject, usually of interest just to hard-core legal nerds, migrated over to the mainstream media in Jeffrey Toobin’s recent New Yorker profile of Justice John Paul Stevens. Toobin cleverly used the topic of clerk hiring as a backdoor way of getting at JPS’s retirement plans:

With the election of Barack Obama, the question of Stevens’s retirement has become more pressing. Even though Stevens was appointed by a Republican President, many assume that he would never willingly have turned his seat over to George W. Bush. I asked Stevens about his plans.

“Well, I still have my options open,” he said. “When I decided to just hire one clerk, three of my four clerks last year said they’d work for me next year if I wanted them to. So I have my options still. And then I’ll have to decide soon.” On March 8th, he told me that he would make up his mind in about a month.

April 8 is just around the corner. If you hear of Justice Stevens re-hiring his former clerks (or hiring new clerks) for October 2010, please let us know.

In an interesting online chat with Toobin about his JPS profile, the subject of clerk hiring came up again….

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Sorry, we didn’t mean to get your hopes up (or maybe we did). The famously sphinx-like Justice Thomas did not ask a question at oral argument yesterday — but he did open his mouth and emit hearty laughs. From CNN:

Sometimes the most complicated of cases at the Supreme Court brings out the best arguments. It certainly brought out the giggles in a little-watched appeal Tuesday over federal prison terms.

The justices managed to crack themselves up — along with the public audience — at least a dozen times in the hour-long oral debate. Justice Clarence Thomas rarely speaks at the high court’s normally sober sessions, but he especially enjoyed the gentle insults and self-deprecating jibes his colleagues showered on each other. His booming laugh could be clearly heard at times.

So what gave CT a case of the chuckles during Barber v. Thomas?

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mike sacks first one.jpgWelcome to Part II of First One @ One First‘s Guide to Scoring a SCOTUS Seat. My name is Mike Sacks and I am a Georgetown 3L and proprietor of F1@1F, where I write about my adventures from the front of the general admission line for the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in cases of public interest and political salience.
Last week, I gave you all the information you need to be at the head of the line. But getting there is only the start of the full experience. After the jump, I give you some tips to maximize your morning.

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