Judicial Nominations

I remember riding home one evening with Justice Lewis Powell, whom I was serving as a law clerk. I was pumped over a vote he had cast that day, and I expected him to share my excitement. He responded that he considered himself fortunate if only 48 percent of the legitimate points to be made were on the other side.

– Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, writing in a Washington Post op-ed piece about the virtues required of judges — and how the elimination of the filibuster on many presidential nominees could lead to a less balanced judiciary.

Judge Richard KopfDid the agents who were conducting my interview already know all about my daughter, the surveillance and the warning? While I suspect they did, to this day, I am not certain. Was I really obligated to “rat her out” to prove my bona fides? I have no idea, but I sure felt sh**ty for having done so.

– Judge Richard G. Kopf, writing on his delightful blog about the deeply intrusive process for vetting federal judicial nominees — which required him to reveal to the FBI his daughter’s brush with allegedly unsavory characters.

(See also Richard Posner — citing Above the Law and Elie Mystal, by the way — after the jump.)

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The other shoe has dropped: Senator Harry Reid went forward with the long-awaited “nuclear option” to end the Republican filibuster of Obama nominees, most notably the nominations of Judge Robert Wilkins, Georgetown Law Professor Nina Pillard, and Akin Gump partner Patricia Millett to three vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit.

By a 52-48 vote, Democrats killed off the filibuster for most of the president’s upcoming nominations, though kindly preserved the minority’s right to filibuster Supreme Court nominees. So they didn’t take away all of our fun.

But you probably already know that. You probably already have a militant opinion about it if social media is to be believed. But as we prepare to welcome three new judges to the D.C. Circuit, our friends, family, politicians, and media people are going to toss around some really hollow sound bytes both for and against this move. Let’s just get some of them out of the way now, so you don’t have to act surprised when you watch Meet the Press on Sunday.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “And Boom Goes The (Nuclear) Dynamite: Previewing The Derptastic Sound Bytes You’re About To Hear”

This week, the Senate blocked the nomination of Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. President Obama nominated Wilkins to fill Judge David Sentelle’s seat. Failing to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster, Wilkins won’t move forward to an up-or-down, simple-majority vote by the Senate.

Senate Republicans insist that the D.C. Circuit does not need any more judges in order to properly carry its current caseload. While Wilkins might be well-qualified to be a circuit judge, the Senate just isn’t hiring. President Obama said in a written statement, “When it comes to judicial nominations, I am fulfilling my constitutional responsibility, but Congress is not. Instead, Senate Republicans are standing in the way of a fully-functioning judiciary that serves the American people.” Democrats in the Senate, led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), threaten to alter the rules governing judicial nominations to prevent filibustering.

Democrats’ and Republicans’ reasons for fixating on the D.C. vacancies are political and obvious. It’s an unusually influential court, issuing rulings on administrative and regulatory matters with nationwide implications. What about the rest of the country, though? While politicians in Washington fuss over the D.C. Circuit, what is being neglected elsewhere?

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Let us give thanks to all the talented attorneys who leave Biglaw partnerships to serve as federal judges. First, this type of public service, often made at significant financial sacrifice, is in the legal profession’s finest traditions. Second, by throwing their hats into the federal judicial ring, these nominees let us ogle their personal finances — a subject of keen interest, and one that’s less than perfectly transparent.

Last month we used a pair of Ninth Circuit nominations to gain insight into partner pay at Munger Tolles & Olson. Today we use a D.C. district court nomination as a vehicle for looking at profits per partner at two other elite law firms, Baker Botts and Covington & Burling….

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* The four female Supremes gathered last night (and kept RBG up past her bedtime) to celebrate the unveiling of a lifelike painting of themselves that’ll be on display for years. You go girls! [Reliable Source / Washington Post]

* Now that cloture’s been filed on a would-be D.C. Circuit judge, these judicial nominations are getting exciting. You should probably get ready for a battle royal on Patricia Millett’s qualifications later this week. [Blog of Legal Times]

* The women over at Holland & Knight must be pregnant with glee now that the firm is offering incredibly attractive paid maternity and adoption leave packages in the hope of retaining its lady lawyers. [Daily Business Review]

* People want to know if they should take the LSAT in December or February. Are they serious? Take it in December so you can retake it if you screw up. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* Aww, Barry Bonds wants the Ninth Circuit to rehear his obstruction of justice conviction with 11 judges instead of three. Perhaps he thinks that more judges will equal more sympathy. [San Jose Mercury News]

Certain firms are, in my opinion, routinely underrated in the Vault 100 rankings of law firm prestige. One of them is Williams & Connolly, currently #16, which strikes me as a top 10 firm. Another is Munger Tolles & Olson, which is all the way down at #34.

Munger is an amazing firm. Its attorneys work on major matters, including great pro bono cases, and its lawyers boast incredible pedigrees, with more Supreme Court clerks than you can shake a gavel at (wooed by $300,000 signing bonuses). At the same time, MTO gets top scores for diversity. These commitments to diversity and pro bono helped propel Munger to the #1 spot in the American Lawyer’s A-List rankings, which measure overall firm fabulosity (based on revenue per lawyer, pro bono work, attorney diversity, and associate satisfaction).

In light of all this, I’m still wondering why Munger doesn’t fare better in the Vault rankings (for whatever the Vault rankings are worth, and you’re free to argue about that). Perhaps MTO is hurt by its relatively small size and tight geographic focus, with offices in just two cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Or perhaps prestige is tied partly to partner profit, and Munger doesn’t hunger enough for money.

How much do MTO partners earn? Financial disclosures for two younger Munger partners, both nominated to the Ninth Circuit, shed a little light on this question….

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Oyez, oyez, oyez! It’s the first week of October.

* Say what you will about Justice Scalia, but the man is hilarious — more funny than his four liberal colleagues combined, according to a statistical analysis of oral argument recordings. [New York Times]

* The government shutdown is slowing down the judicial confirmation process, already famous for its speed and efficiency. [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]

* More about news for Steven Donziger in his long-running battle with Chevron. Maybe it’s time to surrender, Steve? I hear Ecuador is a great place to retire. [New York Law Journal]

* Law firm merger mania continues, as Carlton Fields combines with Jorden Burt. [Carlton Fields (press release)]

* Herbert Smith Freehills says “you’re hired” to Scott Balber, the lawyer for Donald Trump who got mocked by Bill Maher on national television. [The Lawyer]

* You might see your dog as harmless and cuddly, but the law might see your dog as a weapon (and rightfully so, in my opinion). [New York Times via ABA Journal]

* Congratulations to all the winners of the FT’s Innovative Lawyers awards. [Financial Times]

* And congratulations to Heidi Wendel and Deirdre McEvoy, high-ranking government lawyers headed to Jones Day and Patterson Belknap, respectively. [New York Law Journal]

* Today the Supreme Court will hear argument in McCutcheon v. FEC, a major campaign finance case that some are calling “the next Citizens United.” Check out an interview with one of the lawyers behind it, after the jump. [UCTV]

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Law school’s epitaph?

* Hiring a Supreme Court clerk might not be worth a $500,000 gamble for some Biglaw firms. Some will take that sweet sign-on bonus and remove their golden handcuffs before a year is out. [Capital Comment / Washingtonian]

* Akin Gump partner and D.C. Circuit nominee Patricia Millett won approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee by a margin of 10-8 along party lines, and now her nomination will head to the full Senate for a vote. [Huffington Post]

* President Obama nominated Michelle Friedland and John Owens, two young Munger Tolles & Olson partners, for seats on the Ninth Circuit. If confirmed, that’ll make three partners from the same firm on the bench. [The Recorder]

* Sorry, law firms, but it’s no longer cool to inflate hourly billing rates for contract attorneys when you pay them substantially less. You can thank Ted Frank for this judicial revelation. [WSJ Law Blog]

* The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education thinks that just about everything having to do with law schools is “deeply flawed” and needs “serious re-engineering.” How comforting. [ABA Journal]

* Law School Transparency is willing to assist schools with the reporting of their ABA post-graduation job placement statistics, for a price. How much is integrity worth these days? [National Law Journal]

* For $25K, Casey Anthony’s bankruptcy trustee won’t make her sell the worldwide rights to her story — like her theory of the crime she was acquitted of, it “exists solely within [her] mind.” [Sun-Sentinel]

Professor Nina Pillard

* It’s just business as usual: Amid accusations of liberal court-packing, D.C. Circuit nominee Nina Pillard faced questions on abortion and religion during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. [USA Today]

* Biglaw isn’t as dead as we’ve been told and made to believe. Some of the largest firms are actually doing quite well, says American Lawyer’s editor-in-chief, who’d like her job to retain some meaning for now. [Am Law Daily]

* Fried Frank knew that it’d take a banker to pull the firm from its monetary funk, so it picked up David Greenwald, deputy general counsel of Goldman Sachs, to act as co-chair through 2015. [New York Law Journal]

* With the change in SEC policy, from allowing companies to use neither-admit-nor-deny language, to forcing them to admit guilt in “egregious” cases, lawyers may soon be very busy. [Corporate Counsel]

* Raj Rajaratnam is a firm believer in the “three strikes and you’re out” theory of law. A month after the Second Circuit affirmed his insider trading conviction, he’s asking for a rehearing en banc. [Bloomberg]

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