Obamacare

I respectfully request that the Court allow the American public the opportunity to learn contemporaneously or near-contemporaneously how it resolved one of the most significant issues to come before it in many years. I urge the Court to provide live audio and video coverage of its announcement in the same manner it provides delayed audio recordings of oral arguments. At the very least, I ask for release of such a recording immediately after the announcement.

– a letter from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press co-signed by 49 other media groups and addressed to Chief Justice John G. Roberts, imploring the Supreme Court to offer live audio access to the announcement of its opinion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act case (aka Obamacare).

(As noted by Lyle Denniston on SCOTUSblog, the chances of this request being granted are “remote to non-existent.”)

It seems that Supreme Court clerks are having a moment right now. They’ve made the pages of New York Magazine. They’re getting profiled by Thomson Reuters. They’re being nominated for ambassadorships (before even hitting age 40). They’re the subject of a new book edited by Todd Peppers and Artemus Ward, In Chambers: Stories of Supreme Court Law Clerks and Their Justices (affiliate link; I have a review copy and am looking forward to reading it).

And why are SCOTUS clerks in the limelight? One reason is that they are privy to some serious secrets. The entire nation is eagerly anticipating the Obamacare decision — and they know how it’s going to come out.

No wonder a “no guests” policy has been instituted at the SCOTUS clerk happy hours. The pressure to keep the Obamacare secret — but also to spill it! — must be mind-blowing.

Some of the current clerks are married; do you think they’ve been able to resist telling their spouses? If a clerk goes out for drinks with friends and gets a little tipsy, might he spill the beans? If a clerk has brunch with her parents on Sunday for Father’s Day, and Dad speculates about how the case will come out, could the clerk’s telling facial expression reveal the ruling? [FN1]

If I were one of the Elect this Term, I’d never leave my apartment except to go to work, and I’d set my email auto-reply and voicemail greetings to say the following: “Please be advised that I will be completely unavailable — for in-person meetings, telephone conversations, or any other type of contact — until June 25, 2012. Thank you for your understanding.”

This brings us to today’s topic: the latest news in Supreme Court clerk hiring. Which lucky (and brilliant) young lawyers will find themselves at One First Street for October Term 2012?

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Justice Elena Kagan

Sounds like a dumb law.

– Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, commenting during her confirmation hearings on Senator Tom Coburn’s attempt to compare the Affordable Care Act to a hypothetical law requiring consumption of fruits and vegetables.

(Senator Coburn wondered if such a law would violate the Commerce Clause. In response, Kagan noted that “whether it’s a dumb law is different from … the question of whether it’s constitutional.”)

Most of the journalistic/legal world is on fire with excitement for the decision in the Affordable Care Act case. The New Yorker has a critical article on the not-yet-but-really-soon-to-be-issued decision and what it means for the Court. Time Magazine has a cover picture of Justice Kennedy — “The Decider” — a close-up so close you can see the lines in his bifocals. New York Magazine wrote about how frustrating it is that Supreme Court clerks don’t leak info so there would finally, for the love of all things holy, be something to report from the Court about the health care reform case.

Folks who don’t have press passes are also keyed up. I heard a rumor from one of my neighbors that the decision would come down this week! A friend of a friend told me that the health care reform case was in the bag for the conservatives. It’s like the finals in American Idol, but no one gets to text in their vote.

For weeks, the world has speculated and waited for an opinion. Each decision day for the past month the speculation has intensified. Each decision day a decision in Obamacare has not come.

What happened at One First Street today?

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We don’t respond to criticism. Judges use what’s known as the rope-a-dope trick. It’s judicial tradition.

– Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking yesterday at the University of Southern Mississippi. Citing precedent set in Ali v. Foreman, Justice Scalia declined to answer a question about President Barack Obama’s controversial statements about the Supreme Court earlier this week.

They say that March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb. And in the case of last month’s legal happenings, that saying held true for the most part. Because even stuttering lambs are still gentle creatures, right?

All in all, March was filled with excitement (of the sexual variety) and disappointment (of the layoff variety) for lawyers. We even got a lesson in how to (and how not to) argue before the Supreme Court.

So who are our nominees for March’s Lawyer of the Month competition?

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Remember the homework assignment issued by Judge Jerry Smith of the Fifth Circuit to the U.S. Department of Justice? Earlier this week, Judge Smith ordered the DOJ to file a three-page, single-spaced letter discussing the principles of judicial review, in light of prior comments by President Barack Obama that could be construed as questioning the doctrine.

The response was due today at noon (Houston time) — about 20 minutes ago. It was filed on behalf of the Department by Attorney General Eric Holder.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

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'I'm so glad the Justice Department respects judicial review!'

The nation recently received a lesson in constitutional law from President Barack Obama (who famously taught Con Law at the University of Chicago). As we mentioned yesterday, President Obama said on Monday that striking down the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, would constitute an “unprecedented, extraordinary step,” amounting to “judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.”

The problem with this lesson: it wasn’t exactly accurate. Those “unelected” federal judges “overturn … duly constituted and passed law[s]” all the time — well, maybe not all the time, but on occasion, when said laws are inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution. It’s neither “unprecedented” nor “extraordinary,” and it doesn’t amount to judicial activism; rather, it’s called judicial review.

One prominent conservative jurist, Judge Jerry E. Smith of the Fifth Circuit, took it upon himself to set the record straight on this matter….

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Bo respects Obama's rhetoric way more than the Supreme Court.

So, I have a dog and sometimes I say things like “do not nudge open the bathroom door and rip up all the toilet paper,” or “you are not allowed to take my socks and hide them under my bed.” When I say these things, she looks at me as if she understands or at least basically respects my authority. But when I leave the bathroom door slightly ajar or I put my socks on the floor, she goes right back to ripping up paper or hiding socks.

You see, she’s a dog. And she’s gonna do what she’s going to do.

In all important respects, the Supreme Court of the United States is indistinguishable from my dog. With lifetime appointments for the justices, the Court is going to do what it wants, when it wants to, and they don’t much care what the “executive” happens to think they should do.

If you don’t want the Court to rip up your toilet paper, don’t leave the door open. Because scolding them about what they should or should not do has little effect, as President Obama is about to find out….

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Carter Phillips

After the Supreme Court heard oral arguments over the constitutionality of Obama’s healthcare overhaul last week, we discussed the case with veteran Supreme Court litigator Carter Phillips. Phillips, the managing partner of Sidley Austin‘s Washington, D.C. office, is a renowned Supreme Court litigator. He has argued 75 cases in front of the high court, more than any other attorney in private practice.

Check out our conversation below. He had a lot of insightful comments about the performances of Paul Clement and Donald Verrilli, the mind of Justice Anthony Kennedy, and even a few jokes…

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