Politics

SCOTUS in the house at SOTU.

President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address this evening, and it was even less exciting than last year (which was less exciting than the year before, when the famous Obama v. Alito showdown over Citizens United took place). Tonight was light on drama — one of the most compelling moments came early on, with the arrival in the chamber of retiring Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — and President Obama’s speech was light on new ideas. Considering that we’re in an election year, with no major legislation likely to pass anytime soon, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Your Above the Law editors covered the speech via Twitter. See @ATLblog, @DavidLat, @ElieNYC, and @StaciZaretsky.

Here’s an open thread for discussion of the address. We’ll get the party started with a few legally oriented highlights, after the jump.

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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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Romney shows what he thinks the ideal effective tax rate should be for people who have good hair.

If you are a wealthy American who pays the top regular income tax rate of 35%, you have terrible, awful lawyers.

Mitt Romney does not have terrible lawyers.

The news of the day is that GOP frontrunner Romney released the previous two years of his tax returns. Romney’s 2010 adjusted gross income was $21,661,344. His estimated AGI for 2011 is $20,901,075. If all of that income was taxed at the highest tax rate, Romney would be paying around $7 million in federal taxes. But only true idiots and Republicans trying to scare people in election years actually believe that wealthy people pay anything approaching a 35% income tax in this country. Instead, Romney’s effective tax rate was about 14% in 2010 and is estimated to be around 15% in 2011. My effective tax rate was higher than Mitt Romney’s in 2010, and I don’t even get to like firing people.

But Romney is trying to spin his tax returns as an example of how “complicated” that tax code is. And the mainstream media is overwhelmed and helping to push that line. But these taxes are not complicated for a tax lawyer — and when you make $20 million a year, you can afford some good ones, so doing your taxes is about as complicated as writing a check for legal fees…

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SOPA is getting pwned. Yesterday, all the uber players with their epic gear hopped on Vent and raided the SOPA base, and now the newbie Congress people who sponsored the law are running scared. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the sponsors of the Stop Online Piracy Act have “renounced” their law. The New York Times reports that Senators and Congresspeople are abandoning this thing like it was a campaign promise.

Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, all of the big internet corporations flexed their muscles — and oh, by the way, this is what it looks like when corporations use speech for speech, as opposed to pretending that anonymous corporate campaign contributions magically count as speech.

In the wake of this victory, here’s a question: Is this what we want? Yesterday, the internet used its power for good (though I fear the movie industry will strike back by making you watch full-length Kevin James movies before you can download the next Batman preview). But what if in the future “the internet” wants something bad, something that is more than the mere protection of freedom?

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Laura Kaeppeler

* The Fourth Circuit denied Rick Perry’s Virginia election law appeal in about four seconds flat. Not like it matters. He’s probably going to be out of the race come Saturday. [Washington Wire / Wall Street Journal]

* Women are having trouble making equity partner in Biglaw firms, and not because of the glass ceiling or other imposed barriers. No, apparently women are just making bad choices. [Chicago Tribune]

* Laura Kaeppeler, the new Miss America, plans to use her $50K pageant scholarship to go to law school. Well, at least one year of law school, since that’s all she’ll be able to afford with so little cash. [WHBL]

* Her Royal Hotness, Pippa Middleton, has hired Harbottle & Lewis to stop harassment from the paparazzi. As long as they allow more pictures of her ass, we won’t have a problem. [Daily Mail]

* Lindsay Lohan got a glowing report at her latest probation progress hearing from a pleased Judge Sautner. Maybe LiLo really did give the judge a signed copy of her Playboy spread. [CNN]

* End piracy, not liberty. Do you like the Internet the way it is? Got something to say about the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act? Sign this petition and make your voice heard. [Google]

Is peeing on somebody’s dead body a war crime? What about peeing on their grave? What about an important monument? As I’ve spoken about before, one of my life’s goals is to pee in every river that was important to the Confederacy. If I relieve myself in the Chickamauga, can a true son of the Cumberland bring me up in front of a war crimes tribunal?

The video of those American Marines urinating on dead Afghan bodies is so disturbing that it somehow demands a legal response. Mitt Romney might never want to “apologize” for America, but maybe that’s just because he’s used to being able to metaphorically urinate on those hoping some of his wealth trickles down.

And yet — 1Ls, say it with me — “most of international law does not exist.” Aside from whatever punishment the United States Marine Corps wants to impose on these guys, there isn’t a whole lot the international community can do to punish them.

Unless we want to call urinating on somebody a “war crime.” But is punishing some jackasses worth diluting the term?

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Natalee Holloway

* What’s funnier here? The fact that Stephen Colbert is running for “president of the United States of South Carolina,” or the fact that he’s already beating Jon Huntsman in the polls? [Washington Post]

* Notorious New Jersey defense attorney Paul Bergrin’s second racketeering trial has been postponed and may be delayed indefinitely, but he’s such a pimp that he doesn’t even care. [The Record]

* According to a new study, 80 percent of law students surveyed said they would attend law school again if they could start over. Hey, any way to escape a dead-end job market. [National Law Journal]

* Unfortunately, not everyone impaneled for jury duty gets to have the Pauly Shore experience. Some people just get fired — even law firm receptionists. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* The day after Joran van der Sloot pleaded guilty to another girl’s murder, a judge declared Natalee Holloway was legally dead. Sometimes coincidence has great timing. [New York Daily News]

* Can you put a “White Only” sign outside of your apartment complex’s public pool? Nope, still illegal. That’s an antique that you might want to consider leaving up in the attic. [ABC News]

* Got fired because you love prostitutes and strippers? Don’t sue over your “hurt feelings,” because apparently all of the bros in the oil and gas industry love them, too. [The Snitch / SF Weekly]

* “It seems no one can use dirty words, except Steven Spielberg.” Well, sh*t, I’ll be damned. Is Elena Kagan going to be the voice of reason in the Supreme Court’s FCC profanity case? [Los Angeles Times]

* Ken Cuccinelli filed an emergency motion to get Virginia’s primary ballots printed. You can’t wait three days for Perry’s hearing? It’s on Friday the 13th. You know how that’s going to go. [Bloomberg]

* The Tenth Circuit upheld a ruling to block an Oklahoma law barring the consideration of Sharia law in court decisions. If this pisses you off, go and watch Homeland. You’ll feel better. [MSNBC]

* Dewey want to join the Magic Circle? Bloody hell, of course! Clifford Chance has snagged two mergers and acquisitions partners from Dewey & LeBoeuf. [DealBook / New York Times]

* What will an LL.M. get you in today’s job market? Not a whole lot. And if you’re counting that extra year of loan debt as something of value, then you’re just a masochist. [National Law Journal]

* Heather Peters, the former lawyer suing Honda in small claims court, may be SOL because of a SOL issue. Stay tuned for the results at her second hearing later this month. [Huffington Post]

He grows strong off the tears of fired workers.

* There’s a new chief legal officer at Morgan Stanley: Eric Grossman, a former Davis Polk partner, replaces Frank Barron, a former Cravath partner (who joined Morgan Stanley not that long ago; if you know more about this odd situation, email us). [Bloomberg Businessweek]

* Will anybody be surprised if it turns out that Ron Paul likes to fire people too? [Politico]

* Et tu, Bill Kristol? [Weekly Standard]

* How will Citizens United affect the political process? We’re starting to find out. [WSJ Law Blog]

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski

* How often does a federal judge get a shout-out in the announcement of a pop music group’s tour? [The Music Network]

* Or how often does a federal judge go on tour with his own band? [Patently-O]

* Maybe the NLRB should stay the course on protecting employees’ rights to organize themselves using social media. [LexisNexis / Labor & Employment Law]

* Most people will just ignore the balanced budget amendment as proposed by Chuck Woolery (yes, that Chuck Woolery), but on the off chance that somebody actually says to you, “You know, Chuck Woolery has some really good ideas,” here’s somebody who took the time to smack the Chuckster down. [Recess Appointment]

It’ll take some time before a court rules on the legality of Barack Obama’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Obama nominated Cordray two years ago, but the Republicans have refused to allow his nomination to come to a vote. Obama then wanted to use his recess appointment powers to fill the vacancy while Congress was away, but Republicans have blocked that through a series of sham sessions in which a couple of members gavel in and gavel out in a few seconds every couple of days. Last week, Obama decided those sessions did not constitute real sessions and appointed Cordray anyway, and we’ve all been treated to a week of howling from the right about an “illegal” power grab by the executive branch.

I appeared on the Mike Huckabee Show this weekend and defended the president’s appointment. It felt a lot like writing here at ATL: the live studio audience even booed me to make me feel at home.

But on Friday, Republican lawmakers did something really funny: they asked Eric Holder and the Department of Justice to explain what role the Office of Legal Counsel played in advising or authorizing Obama’s move. I’m immediately reminded of Bones McCoy trying to get back to the quarantined Genesis planet in Star Trek III when he says: “There aren’t gonna be any damned permits! How can you get a permit to do a damned illegal thing?”

Regardless of the legality of the recess appointments, did Obama do the right thing?

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