Samuel Alito

Justice Stephen G. Breyer

Are justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gods, or men? There’s evidence on both sides. Their brilliant legal minds and dazzling résumés weigh in favor of deity designation. Their ability to make mistakes suggests that they’re mere mortals.

Supreme Court justices: they’re just like us! They get into accidents — as Justice Stephen Breyer did over Memorial Day weekend, while riding his bicycle near his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Justice Breyer broke his right collarbone in the incident — ouch (and more evidence to support my dislike of cycling).

This isn’t even the first vehicular mishap for one of the nine in 2011. As you may recall, Justice Antonin Scalia got in a car accident, back in March — and received a ticket for it.

Physical accidents involving federal judges might not be shocking; brainiacs aren’t known for their grace and agility. But ethical oversights might be more surprising.

Let’s look at the latest controversy involving Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. — and whether the hubbub is justified….

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Justice Kennedy says: 'Open Sesame.'

It’s late May, so we’re entering the home stretch of the Supreme Court Term. Over the next few weeks, the Court will be handing down opinions in the most contentious, closely divided cases.

One such opinion came down today: Brown v. Plata (formerly Schwarzenegger v. Plata). In this high-profile case, a three-judge district court issued an order that directed the State of California to reduce its prison population — e.g., by releasing prisoners (as many as 46,000, at the time of the order) — in order to address problems with overcrowding and poor health care for inmates.

When SCOTUS granted cert, I thought that it did so in order to summarily reverse. Federal judges running penal institutions, ordering tens of thousands of convicted criminals to be let out onto the streets? The district court’s order reeked of the kind of Ninth Circuit liberal activism that doesn’t sit well with the Roberts Court. (Note that one of the members of the three-judge panel was the notoriously left-wing Judge Stephen Reinhardt.)

Well, I was wrong. The Court just affirmed, 5-4, in an opinion by (who else?) Justice Anthony Kennedy.

There were two dissents, by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. Justice Scalia’s opinion in particular contains some stinging (but ultimately ineffectual) benchslaps….

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Ben Stein

* I was just asking myself, “What does Ben Stein think about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case?” [American Spectator via Daily Intel]

* The perp walk is illegal in France. It’s not clear from this article how the French view the crip walk. [Sacramento Bee]

* Carl Icahn, the Blockbuster bankruptcy, insider-trading charges, and a golden retriever wearing comically huge sunglasses. This story touches on three of those things. [Bloomberg]

* Hogan Lovells fired a partner who falsely claimed $1.6 million in expenses. To put that in perspective, that is $1.6 million more than I have. [Am Law Daily]

* A Brooklyn juror died of a heart attack while listening to testimony. And that’s… sad, I guess. But the story goes on to note that “The juror, who was unemployed, was said to be ‘happy’ to be collecting a check for his service on the case which was expected to go on for about a month.” Man. [New York Post]

* Sammy Alito batted down 10 popular misconceptions about the Supreme Court in a speech on Monday. Chief among these myths is that Justice Sotomayor listens to a lot of Buena Vista Social Club on her Zune. Sonia never really got into that album, Alito noted. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch via ABA Journal]

* Meanwhile, Justice Thomas wondered in a speech whether critics of the Supreme Court suffer from a “disease of illiteracy or laziness.” So is your face, Justice Thomas. So is your face. [Fox News]

It might interest you to know that if I were still an active justice, I would have joined [Justice Alito's] powerful dissent in the recent case holding that the intentional infliction of severe emotional harm is constitutionally protected speech. The case… involved a verbal assault on the private citizens attending the funeral of their son — a Marine corporal killed in Iraq. To borrow Sam’s phrase, the First Amendment does not transform solemn occasions like funerals into ‘free-fire zones.’

– Justice John Paul Stevens, in a recent speech to the Federal Bar Council in New York City, explaining how he would have voted with Justice Samuel Alito in Snyder v. Phelps (aka the Westboro Baptist Church case).

* Sammy Alito and the roots of a compassionate constitutional conservatism. By Emily Bazelon. Foreblurb by Juggalo Law. [New York Times]

* A U.S. vulture fund is having problems collecting a certain debt from the Democratic Republic of Congo via certain chinamen. Yes, I know that’s not the preferred nomenclature. But these men actually do build railroads. [Bloomberg]

* This business professor thinks law firms should start acting like real businesses. Somewhere, a theater professor thinks law firms should just start acting. [Washington Post]

* This fascinating story’s many intimations about State Senator Carl Kruger make it difficult to discern who is doinking who. Sorry, doinking whom. Whom is doinking whom. [New York Times]

* It is spring, which means the New York Mets are feisty. Silly Mets. [New York Post]

* The FDA is weighing whether to ban menthol cigarettes. Good thing Elie already quit. What’s that? You didn’t smoke menthols, Elie? Wow, this is awkward… [Chicago Tribune]

* The Barry Bonds trial is going to be a heavyweight fight. However, most of that weight will be located in Bonds’s head. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Westboro Baptist Church might be protected under the First Amendment. But maybe we can nail them for child abuse?

The Supreme Court just handed down its decision in the Westboro Baptist Church case, Snyder v. Phelps. The court ruled, 8-1, that the father of a slain Marine could not successfully sue the Westboro church in tort for protesting during his son’s funeral.

Call it Free Speech 101. The hard part about the First Amendment is that you have to allow people to say all manner of annoying, vulgar, and inappropriate things, at the wrong times.

Not that Justice Samuel Alito thinks so. Justice Alito was the lone dissenter in this case. He was also the lone dissenter in the Stevens case, in which the Court overturned a ban on animal crush videos on First Amendment grounds. But he voted with the majority in Citizens United.

I can’t wait until Sam “Not True” Alito writes a book or something explaining why regular people don’t deserve the free speech given to American corporations and sitting Supreme Court justices….

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Justice Alito is going to the State of the Union this year? Not true, not true!

Tomorrow night, many of us will tune in to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address — hoping to catch more catfighting than on an episode of Jersey Shore.

Last year’s SOTU did not disappoint drama-seekers. As you may recall, an Article II vs. Article III smackdown took place: President Obama chided the Supreme Court for its Citizens United decision, with six members of the Court sitting a stone’s throw away from him, and Justice Samuel Alito responded by mouthing “not true” at the POTUS.

(Speaking of Citizens United, the decision celebrated its one-year anniversary last week, on January 21. And as Josh Blackman notes, the world has not come to an end, contrary to the dire predictions of distraught liberals. Of course, experts in this area — including some Obama-supporting liberals — told us that Citizens United wasn’t that big a deal.)

Thanks to last year’s juicy Obama v. Alito showdown, numerous commentators have wondered: Will Supreme Court justices attend the State of the Union this year? If so, which ones?

Let’s make some predictions, justice by justice….

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Justice Antonin Scalia, being interviewed by Jan Crawford of CBS News at the Federalist Society's annual dinner in Washington, DC.

On Thursday evening, I had the great pleasure of attending the annual dinner at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention, in Washington, D.C. The event — attended by an estimated 1,400 people, and held in the cavernous ballroom at the Omni Shoreham — featured, as always, conservative and libertarian legal luminaries galore.

(Did Judge Diane Sykes just air-kiss Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain? Isn’t that Ken Cuccinelli over at the bar? What might Judges Brett Kavanaugh and Jeff Sutton be discussing so intently — maybe the latest clerks they’ve placed at the Supreme Court? Whoa — Ted Olson chatting with Justice Samuel Alito! Be still my heart….)

The highlight of the evening was the interview of Justice Antonin Scalia by Jan Crawford, chief legal correspondent of CBS News (who was looking fabulous in a black dress with open sleeves). The justice was in fine form, hilarious and freewheeling in his remarks….

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Sam, you ought to thank Harriet Miers for making this possible.

– President George W. Bush to newly confirmed Justice Samuel Alito, as recounted in President Bush’s new memoir, Decision Points (via Jan Crawford).

I doubt that I will be there in January.

– Justice Samuel Alito, making a humorous and self-deprecating reference to the last time he attended the State of the Union, in response to an audience question after he delivered this year’s Wriston Lecture at the Manhattan Institute.

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