John G. Roberts Jr.

Sit up and take notice, Your Honor.

Justice Ginsburg overstated her case. If judicial activism is defined as the tendency to strike down laws, the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is less activist than any court in the last 60 years.

Adam Liptak, the Supreme Court correspondent of the New York Times, summarizing recent research into judicial behavior.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Akin Gump’s Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit. Her nomination now moves on to the full Senate.

The committee voted 10-8 to approve Millett’s nomination. Take a guess what all the voters had in common? Yes, the 10 Democrats voted “Aye” and the 8 Republicans voted “Nay.” Yet even while voting her down, the Republicans went out of their way to note that Millett was qualified for the post, but opposed her on the bogus argument Senator Grassley has been pushing that the D.C. Circuit is “underworked.”

During the hearings, Senator Grassley cited two anonymous letters, presumably from D.C. Circuit judges, to support his stance. Sounding very “Secret Plan to End the Vietnam War,” the anonymous poll felt very unscientific and shady.

Now we’ve got a hold of the secret survey Grassley sent judges. It’s as entertaining as his Tweets

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* Who is the real John Roberts? Will he forever be known as health care reform’s savior, or the man who disregarded precedent to gut minority voting rights? Hell if we know, so we’ll let you be the judge. [Opinionator / New York Times]

* The man may be a mystery, but one thing’s for sure when it comes to Chief Justice Roberts: it’s fair to say that at this point, he’d sincerely appreciate it if his colleagues would kindly STFU during oral argument. [Big Story / Associated Press]

* Elena Kagan, a justice who was never a judge, is now being praised for her ability to put the law into terms that non-lawyers can understand. That’s a score for law professors everywhere. [New York Times]

* In terms of the Voting Rights Act, while the chances of the current Congress enacting a universal voting law are approximately nil, there are other effective avenues that could be taken. [New York Times]

* On Friday, the Ninth Circuit lifted the stay on gay marriages in California, and less than 24 hours later, Prop 8 supporters filed an emergency motion with SCOTUS to stop all of the weddings. Lovely. [NPR]

* Meanwhile, ex-judge Vaughn Walker thinks Justice Scalia’s having joined the high court’s majority on standing telegraphed the fact that he didn’t have votes to uphold Prop 8 as constitutional. [NPR]

* Rubber stamp this: Judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are so upset that they’re being made out as government patsies that they’re talking to the press about it. [Washington Post]

* Whether you think Chevron is “suing [Patton Boggs] lawyers for litigating” or for promoting fraud that “shocks the conscience,” here’s a summary of what’s going on in an epic case. [Washington Post]

* Got a high-profile criminal defense firm? Look out, because you may have captured Biglaw’s eye. Take, for example, Stillman & Friedman, which will be merging with Ballard Spahr. [New York Times]

* Apparently being in your mid-50s is a “good time to [retire]” for law deans who pull in six figures. Ken Randall, outgoing dean of Alabama Law, says he’s “really ready for the next challenge.” [AL.com]

The front of the Supreme Court building: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ (Click to enlarge.)

The Supreme Court was called to order at 10:00 a.m. sharp. The Chief Justice announced, “Justice Kennedy has our first opinion of the day in case number 12-307, United States v. Windsor. Everyone, in the bar members section at least, knew that this was the Defense of Marriage Act case.

That Justice Kennedy was announcing the opinion was significant; he wrote Lawrence v. Texas. Still, no one knew if the Court would reach the merits, since the Solicitor General had announced that the Executive Branch would not defend the constitutionality of DOMA.

Justice Kennedy is an orderly man. He set out the procedural background – Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were married legally in Canada, then came home to New York. Their same-sex marriage is lawful where it was performed and where they lived. Spyer died and left her estate to Windsor. Windsor sought to claim an estate tax exemption for the death of a spouse. DOMA prevented the IRS from recognizing Spyer as Windsor’s spouse. Windsor paid the tax, then challenged DOMA. She won in the district court and the Second Circuit. Justice Kennedy explained how a bipartisan committee found counsel to defend DOMA, and how DOMA was defended ably in the Supreme Court.

(As an aside, Paul Clement took heat for defending DOMA for Congress. When you think about it, if he hadn’t defended it well, the Supreme Court may not have thought it could reach the issue. Paul Clement may be the unsung hero of the DOMA decision.)

So, Kennedy concluded, the Court could reach the merits of whether DOMA is constitutional.

Though a hopeful sign for those who would cheer the demise of DOMA, the decision wasn’t entirely clear….

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The headline in The Onion, which we noted earlier today, pretty much says it all: “Impatient Nation Demands Supreme Court Just Get To The Gay Stuff.” Today, the last day of the Term, SCOTUS granted our wish, issuing its long-awaited rulings on gay marriage in California and on the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Last night, I attended the New York City Bar Association’s annual reception and cocktail party celebrating LGBT Pride Month. M. Dru Levasseur of Lambda Legal and Lisa Linsky were honored for their work advancing LGBT rights. In her eloquent remarks, Linsky noted that despite all the progress of our community, and regardless of what the Supreme Court rules today, many battles remain to be fought.

How many more battles, and of what intensity? Let’s find out what the Court just decided, on the tenth anniversary of the landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas….

Please note the multiple UPDATES added below.

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If I’m ever euthanized, it hope it’s as gentle as the way Chief Justice John Roberts put down the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement.

Not the whole act, mind you. The prohibition on any “standard, practice, or procedure” that “results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color” is still constitutionally permissible. And folks can sue to enforce that.

But the preclearance requbirement is now effectively gone. That’s the rule that the federal government has to approve changes to voting laws in certain jurisdictions that haven’t been so great about race – in that folks registering black people to vote had been murdered in there, or, they’d had really bad records of African-American voter turnout in the past.

Strictly speaking, the preclearance requirement is not gone — it just no longer applies to any jurisdiction in the country any longer. The Court invalidated the method by which it is determined which jurisdictions are subject to preclearance, rather than preclearance itself. So, now no jurisdiction is subject to preclearance — the preclearance formula is gone.

Many people who are concerned about whether black people are allowed to vote think that the preclearance requirement has been an important tool to make sure black people enjoy the right to vote.

Including, it seems, the Chief Justice himself….

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The third week of June is a frustrating time to follow the Supreme Court.

If there’s any institution in contemporary America that understands ceremony, it’s the Court. Such a self-consciously dramatic institution is, in no way, going to underestimate the importance of timing in issuing opinions. The Justices know that there’s a big difference between a story — or a history book — that starts “On the last day of the Term, the Supreme Court decided,” versus “On the third to last day of the Term….”

There is, in short, just about zero chance that this close to the end, yet not quite at the end, the Supreme Court is going to issue an opinion in the Texas affirmative action case, the Voting Rights Act case, the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, or the California Proposition 8 case.

And yet, the Court still issues opinions. And we still line up to hear them, or push SCOTUSblog’s liveblog viewer-count to even higher numbers, even if we all know, or should know, that the opinions we get are not opinions that will resonate through the ages.

Today, the Supreme Court did issue three opinions. And one of them is important, if only for disaffected teenagers. The rest you may not care about, unless you’re a felon with a gun or you ever signed an arbitration agreement….

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Hint: the smallest justice may have the biggest net worth.

If you said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, that wouldn’t be a bad guess. She has earned millions of dollars in royalties from her bestselling book, My Beloved World (affiliate link). Her days of dental debts are behind her.

But she’s still far from the richest member of the Court. That honor would appear to belong to another woman, whose stature might be small but whose net worth is gigantic….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Righteous Indignation, our new column for conservative-minded lawyers.

On Monday, the Supreme Court decided City of Arlington v. FCC. The question before SCOTUS was whether courts must defer to a federal regulatory agency’s interpretation of a statutory ambiguity even when that ambiguity involves the scope of the agency’s authority — its own jurisdiction.

Justice Scalia wrote for the majority, holding that even in cases such as this one, agencies are entitled to the usual deference established in Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. — aka Chevron deference. Chief Justice Roberts dissented, joined by Justices Kennedy and Alito.

The outcome of City of Arlington should be noteworthy to Court watchers — and conservatives in particular — for several reasons. First, the Scalia-Roberts split quiets the simplistic refrain that SCOTUS decides cases down rigid liberal-conservative lines. Second, it highlights an ongoing debate among conservative members of the Court about fundamental issues concerning the separation of powers and constitutional governance. Third, the Scalia and Roberts opinions demonstrate that, far from reserving their barbs for the left, conservatives can be pretty darn snarky amongst themselves.

So, let’s have a closer look….

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Today, the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, held that a citizen of a foreign country who is abused by a foreign corporation in a foreign country cannot sue in a U.S. Court under the Alien Tort Statute because, basically, multinational corporations are very different than pirates.

After Citizens United, we knew that corporations are people. We’re learning what kind of people they are (not pirates). Yet to be decided is whether you’d want to invite them to a dinner party. Or whether they’d accept.

How did we get here?

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