Qualified immunity

Most news you get in life, you know when you’ll get it. Law school grades are posted on a schedule. Your doctor will tell you when the test results are due back. You know when the polls close on election night, and that it will only take so long to count the ballots (though there are some exceptions).

The Supreme Court isn’t like that. Here they are, the closing days of October Term 2011, and all we know is that the Supreme Court will issue opinions at some point in the next few weeks. We don’t know if today is the day.

This creates an odd frustration and excitement in the section of the courtroom where members of the Supreme Court Bar sit.

Today, a number of lawyers recognize Art Spitzer, the legal director for the D.C. area ACLU, sitting in the section for members of the Supreme Court Bar. He was at the Court last week, too. The lawyers sitting and waiting are starved for information about what’s about to happen next.

As lawyers come in, some recognize Art and ask him what opinions the Court will hand down today. He’s a good guy, and reminds them that the only people who know are putting on black robes as he talks. He amicably complains that last week he schlepped all the way down to the Court only to hear a bankruptcy opinion. Art is not interested in the Court’s bankruptcy jurisprudence.

There’s a lot of conversation about what the Court might do today — is life without parole for juveniles constitutional? Is Obamacare? What about the newest Confrontation Clause case? The section of seating for bar members crackles with lawyers eager to show they know what cases are on the Court’s remaining docket.

The Justices come take their seats on the bench — all but Alito — and the Chief Justice announces that Justice Breyer has the first opinion of the day.

We’re on the edge of our seats as Breyer takes a second to make sure he has the attention of the courtroom. He starts to speak….

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Last month, we brought you a story about a victorious party in a Supreme Court case, who just so happened to be an attorney himself. The lawyer in question, Steve Filarsky, earned our Lawyer of the Day title after he sent a letter to the losing litigant, advising him to read the SCOTUS opinion “eternally from hell.”

As it turns out, Filarsky wasn’t quite done with his charming letter-writing campaign. Someone else needed to pay for his apparent transgressions. Someone else needed to feel his dictated wrath.

But who was it this time? None other than the losing litigant’s lawyer in the underlying investigation. And boy, did Filarsky have some choice words for him….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Lawyer of the Day (Part Deux): SCOTUS Victor Has Choice Words for Losing Litigant’s Lawyer”

There’s nothing a lawyer likes better than winning a case — especially a case that’s been argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s basically the crowning achievement of a successful career in the law. That being said, even the most gracious SCOTUS victor is entitled to do some gloating (even if the subject matter was particularly snooze-worthy, like qualified immunity).

But sometimes lawyers can go a little overboard with their victory dances. Sometimes lawyers will think up some really outside-the-box ways to shame the losing litigant — and, in the process, themselves.

And with that, allow us introduce you to our Lawyer of the Day, a man who decided it would be a great idea to write a letter to his opponent with the suggestion that he read the SCOTUS opinion “eternally from hell”….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Lawyer of the Day: SCOTUS Victor Advises Losing Litigant to Read Opinion ‘Eternally from Hell’”

The [Ninth Circuit] seems to have cherry-picked the aspects of our opinions that gave colorable support to the proposition that the un-constitutionality of the action here was clearly established.

Qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions. When properly applied, it protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’ [Former Attorney General John] Ashcroft deserves neither label, not least because eight Court of Appeals judges agreed with his judgment in a case of first impression.

– Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the Court in Ashcroft v. al-Kidd (via Josh Blackman). (The eight Court of Appeals judges are those who joined Judge O’Scannlain’s dissent from the denial of rehearing en banc.)