Adam Liptak

In case you’re wondering, there was no major news out of the U.S. Supreme Court this morning. Our friends at SCOTUSblog predict that opinions in the marquee cases, such as the Arizona immigration case and the health care reform case (aka Obamacare), will be issued next week. (Above the Law’s own Supreme Court correspondent, Matt Kaiser, should have a more detailed write-up of this morning’s proceedings later today.)

But we do have some SCOTUS-related news to mention this morning (and not just the latest in law clerk hiring). Did you know that Justice Antonin Scalia has a new book out, hitting stores tomorrow?

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[A]mong the world’s democracies … constitutional similarity to the United States has clearly gone into free fall. Over the 1960s and 1970s, democratic constitutions as a whole became more similar to the U.S. constitution, only to reverse course in the 1980s and 1990s. The turn of the twenty-first century, however, saw the beginning of a steep plunge that continues through the most recent years for which we have data, to the point that the constitutions of the world’s democracies are, on average, less similar to the U.S. Constitution now than they were at the end of World War II.

– Professors David S. Law of Washington University in St. Louis and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia, in a forthcoming article that will be published in the New York University Law Review. They conducted a study that was discussed in a very interesting article by Adam Liptak, ‘We the People’ Loses Appeal With People Around the World.

And perhaps with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Which constitutions does she prefer over our own founding document?

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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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Is that a black rhino or a conservative law prof?

Conservative law professors need help. They don’t want to admit it because conservative orthodoxy holds that the only people who can ask for help in this country are small businessmen and the institution of marriage, but make no mistake, conservatives who want to get a tenure-track job in legal academia need a leg up. That’s because they’ve been discriminated against, both currently and historically. Law school faculties are thought to be a bastion of liberalism, and the problem has gotten so bad that conservative law profs probably need a “plus-factor” in order to overcome this ingrained systemic bias.

Diversity is important in law schools, and if we’re going to have an intellectually diverse faculty, we need to find a way to integrate more conservatives into teaching positions, even if that means a qualified, liberal law professor loses his or her “spot” on the tenure track for a colleague that leans a little harder to the right.

I’d be all for that. But conservatives can’t admit that they made need a diversity program to combat generations of systemic selection bias. So instead, they’re just going to bitch about the fundamental unfairness. Or fire off employment discrimination lawsuits….

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David and Sandra have enjoyed it. I kind of like not having to read a lot of briefs and get reversed by my former colleagues.

– Justice John Paul Stevens, in a humorous quip about the willingness of his fellow retired justices, Sandra Day O’Connor and David H. Souter, to sit by designation on the circuit courts.

(Justice Stevens just published a new book — Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir (affiliate link) — to coincide with the start of the latest Term of SCOTUS, which got underway this week. Adam Liptak of the New York Times praises the memoir as “engaging and candid.”)

I think that it’s probably wrong, in almost all situations, to use a dictionary in the courtroom. Dictionary definitions are written with a lot of things in mind, but rigorously circumscribing the exact meanings and connotations of terms is not usually one of them.

Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary, quoted in an interesting New York Times piece by Adam Liptak about how Supreme Court justices are consulting and quoting dictionaries more frequently in their opinions.

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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If I were a Republican on the court, I wouldn’t think twice about this if I thought the law was unconstitutional. I don’t think they’re going to take some giant hit on it.

— Professor Lee Epstein of Northwestern, commenting to the New York Times on how a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice might rule on a constitutional challenge to health care reform.

Unfortunately, her reasoning has matters exactly backwards. She defers to government officials who regulate private conduct, but attacks those who run government facilities. That basic mindset shows bad intellectual judgment which will lead to a decline in economic and social fortunes that no amount of compassion can cure.

— Professor Richard Epstein, in a piece on Ricochet.com entitled Sonia Sotomayor’s Misplaced “Humanity”.

Justice Antonin Scalia, being interviewed by Jan Crawford of CBS News at the Federalist Society's annual dinner in Washington, DC.

On Thursday evening, I had the great pleasure of attending the annual dinner at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention, in Washington, D.C. The event — attended by an estimated 1,400 people, and held in the cavernous ballroom at the Omni Shoreham — featured, as always, conservative and libertarian legal luminaries galore.

(Did Judge Diane Sykes just air-kiss Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain? Isn’t that Ken Cuccinelli over at the bar? What might Judges Brett Kavanaugh and Jeff Sutton be discussing so intently — maybe the latest clerks they’ve placed at the Supreme Court? Whoa — Ted Olson chatting with Justice Samuel Alito! Be still my heart….)

The highlight of the evening was the interview of Justice Antonin Scalia by Jan Crawford, chief legal correspondent of CBS News (who was looking fabulous in a black dress with open sleeves). The justice was in fine form, hilarious and freewheeling in his remarks….

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