The Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor got the attention of the day yesterday, if not the attention of the Term, even if it doesn’t instantaneously make same-sex marriage the law of the land. Shelby County’s Voting Rights Act ruling was historic, but not as historic as it might have been. Section 4’s formula was struck down, but with Section 5 still in place, Congress has an opportunity to redraft an alternative. Fisher’s remand was no mighty victory for either side of the affirmative action debate. It emphasized that strict scrutiny review demands that UT get less deference than the Fifth Circuit panel gave the school. But we really know that this week’s opinion just kicks the can down the road, teeing up next Term’s Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.
In important ways, Shelby County and Fisher, and in slightly different ways Windsor, keep us talking. Talking about hard issues, but talking. That’s part of the tough stuff of democracy. But SCOTUS’s decision in the California Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, shuts down democratic dialogue in a way that should make all of us wince. I would rather listen to a thousand screaming Mystals argue about affirmative action through the end of OT 2013 than live with the consequences of this week’s decision in Hollingsworth . . . .
* Edith Windsor’s lawyer said she thought her client’s case was “simple,” but it proved to take a little longer than she thought to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. [New York Law Journal]
* Conservative pols are up in arms about the SCOTUS decisions, promising to file constitutional amendments, but like Rand Paul said, “As a country, we can agree to disagree.” [Washington Post]
* Nate Silver breaks down gay marriage by the numbers. By August, 30% of Americans will live in states where same-sex marriage has been legalized. [FiveThirtyEight / New York Times]
* Wherein the ancient artifacts of a once storied and prestigious Biglaw firm are touted by a furniture liquidation company as “like new, for less!” Dewey know how embarrassing this is? [Am Law Daily]
* Sorry, Joel Tenenbaum, but the First Circuit affirmed your $675K debt to the RIAA. That’s what happens when you blame illegal downloads on burglars and foster kids. [Law & Disorder / Ars Technica]
* It looks like David Boies claimed two victories yesterday. The Court of Federal Claims gave Maurice Greenberg the green light to sue the U.S. over the terms of AIG’s bailout. [DealBook / New York Times]
Elie here. In sports, we assess the legacy of athletes after every game. In politics, we assess the legacy of elected officials after every vote or scandal. So why can’t we do the same for Supreme Court justices?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, it’s been a pretty big week over at One First Street. The Court has decided a number of high-profile, controversial cases. Those decisions have come down with strong holdings, blistering dissents, and stinging concurrences. Each justice is aware that the words they’ve published this week could be around for a long time, long after they’re dead, and will be judged by history.
But who has time to wait for history? David Lat and I engage in some instant legacy analysis on what this week has meant for each of the nine justices on the Supreme Court. Let’s break it down in order of seniority, starting with the Chief….
This has been an exciting week at the Supreme Court. But nothing on First Street matched the drama of the Texas State Legislature last night in Austin.
If you watch only television news, you might have missed it.
Wendy Davis, a Democratic Texas state senator from Fort Worth, mounted a one-woman filibuster trying to stop Texas from passing restrictive abortion laws that would have effectively closed all but five of the abortion clinics in the state. Her fight was a lesson in small-scale democracy, arcane parliamentary laws, and standard GOP tactics to change those laws when they feel like they’re losing.
But most of all, it was a lesson in the power of the people…
What Mr. [Richard] Trenk did was so egregiously sloppy that I’m told his name is entering the legal lexicon: “To Trenk” means “to show a lackadaisical attitude toward the law, with catastrophic results for the client.” A usage example might be: “We were doing great until the lawyer missed the filing deadline and Trenked the whole case.”
* I would totally go see “Jaws 2013: Lawyers On The Beach.” [The Legal Geeks]
* Downey Brand laid off support staff this week. Man, I thought that laundry detergent was recession-proof… oh, wait, I’m being told that Downey Brand is law firm, a very well-scented law firm. [ABA Journal]
* It’s illegal to burn you ex’s clothes? Bah. Next you’re going to tell me you can’t set fire to his car. [Legal Juice]
* Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s inability to prosecute his political rivals makes it harder for him to do whatever he wants by threatening his political rivals with prosecution. That’s not exactly a bad thing. [Simple Justice]
* Oh look, the FAA might finally acknowledge that making people turn off their electronic devices during takeoff and landing is a stupidrule that has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on flight safety. [Wall Street Journal]
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
– Charles Dickens
In addition to opening A Tale of Two Cities (affiliate link), this extended quotation kicked off Professor Pam Karlan’s comments when asked to provide some measure of sense to the Supreme Court’s rights jurisprudence this Term. And by that I mean she read the entire quote to an audience of people whose body language screamed out, “yeah, we got it” after the word “foolishness.”
The passage (at least the gist of the passage), however, is apropos. This Term saw a voter registration law struck down in Arizona, even though Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is likely to follow it out the door. As Elie is quick to point out, the black community is likely to get hammered by the Court, yet Professor Karlan thinks that the gay community is going to win, either this year or next.
Karlan, and her fellow panelists at Netroots Nation, outlined a theory that ties these competing decisions together — at least until Monday, when the Court might shoot the whole logic down…
I took Crim Law my first semester in law school. My professor, now the school’s dean, was an imposing fellow to 1L eyes. He looked approximately seven feet tall, with a deep, booming voice, a propensity for cold-calling, and a demanding, often impenetrable teaching style. I loved the class, even though I went into fight-or-flight mode in the minutes before he would stroll down the aisle of the auditorium.
We read the Apprendi line of cases, where the Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial prevented judges from enhancing criminal sentences beyond statutory maximums based on facts other than those decided by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. I thought I grasped the gist, with my nervous 1L brain. Then we got to Harris v. United States. In Harris, the majority held that Apprendi did not apply to facts that would increase a defendant’s mandatory minimum sentence. Judges could apply mandatory minimums on the basis of facts not proved to a jury, without violating the Sixth Amendment. These fact were sentencing factors, the majority held, not offense elements.
Terrified that I had misunderstood something crucial, I visited my crim prof’s office before the class when we would discuss Harris. I recited the cases up to that point, if for no other reason than to show that I had, in fact, been reading and that my ultimate confusion was not because I was totally mentally challenged. (Even if just a little.) I summarized my understanding of the Court’s holding in Harris, why it just didn’t square, how I knew that I must be missing something, because I just didn’t see how Harris properly followed. After way too long, I finally sputtered, “Sir, I’m . . . I’m just . . . confused.”
My prof leaned back in his chair, paused dramatically, sighed, then replied, “Ms. Tabo, of course you are confused. The Supreme Court is confused.”
As of this week, the Court is no longer so confused….
* I’ll get into this more tomorrow (unless Fisher drops), but Washington & Lee’s third year “experiential learning” program has met with underwhelming results in terms of job placement. Theories abound as to why, but this is basically why I say (a) the third year is useless, and (b) stop telling me what your law professors can do, and start telling me what your career services officers are doing. [Law School Cafe via Tax Prof Blog]
* A nice review for Marcia Coyle’s new book, The Roberts Court (affiliate link). It’ll be fun to see how the Court looks at this moment in time, before what will surely be viewed as legacy-defining decisions on race and gay rights coming any minute now. [Seattle Times]
* Justice Ginsburg is optimistic about the future of women on the court. She’s also optimistic about the future of skeletons on the court, and she’s super-excited about the possibility of downloading her brain into a robotic body so that she can keep her job forever. [Blog of the Legal Times]
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The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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