Court blocks release of dozens of convicted sex offenders

April 6, 2009

cjrobertsLate Friday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. issued an order that prevents the release of some sex offenders who have completed their prison terms, but remain under civil confinement.

The portion of the federal law allowing such civil confinement had been invalidated by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Congress overstepped its authority by allowing convicted sex offenders who served their terms, but were deemed dangerous by the government, to be held civilly.  The law, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, was passed by Congress and sighed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006.

Friday Solicitor General Elena Kagan asked the high court to grant an immediate interim stay of the federal appellate court ruling while considering a permanent stay request. Roberts, in turn, granted the permanent stay pending consideration of certiorari in the case.

Roberts’ ruling will keep about 77 convicted offenders to remain in custody in North Carolina. Without the stay, the inmates could have been released as early as next week.

More here from the AP and here from SCOTUSBlog.

More justice chatter: Ginsburg on recovery, Roberts on Ginsburg

March 17, 2009

The Supreme Court may be in recess until next week, but we are hearing from a number of justices as they traverse the country for speaking engagements.

ginsburgLawyers USA‘s Nora Lockwood Tooher was there when Ruth Bader Ginsburg addressed an audience in Boston, where she said the support of her fellow justices and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor helped her through her recent recovery from cancer surgery.

“We are in many ways like a family,” Ginsburg said of the Court’s justices.

Ginsburg said that the advice O’Connor – who like Ginsburg had cancer surgery during her tenure on the bench without missing a day – gave was to have surgery on a Friday, “get over it over the weekend, and go back Monday.” More on Ginsburg’s talk here from Lawyers USA.

cjrobertsMeanwhile, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. spoke at an Idaho university Friday, where he noted that Ginsburg once told him former Chief Justice William Rehnquist was the best boss she’d ever had.

“I haven’t heard she has revised that assessment,” Roberts said, drawing laughter, according to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Roberts focused most of his comments on President Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln, whose 200th birthday is being celebrated this year. Roberts said that Lincoln, as a lawyer and a president, always had an inherent sense of justice. “He could not ignore his internal compass,” Roberts said.

During the speech Roberts was confronted by an audience member claiming to wield documentation showing that President Barack Obama does not meet the citizenship requirement for the presidency. The Supreme Court has already refused to hear several petitions in cases questioning Obama’s citizenship.

Roberts told her to give the documents to security officers, but otherwise declined to discuss the case.

Another recusal?

February 10, 2009

cjrobertsThe new scuttlebutt on blogs like Drug and Device Law Blog and the BLT is about the potential for another high court recusal – this time in one of the biggest cases on the docket.

pfizerChief Justice John G. Roberts owns stock in drug company Pfizer. Pfizer recently acquired drugmaker Wyeth – the same Wyeth that is a party in the case Wyeth v. Levine, which will determine if FDA approval of a drug trumps plaintiff’s ability to bring state tort claims arising from prescription-related injuries.

Attorney Seth Waxman, representing Wyeth, sent a letter to the Court saying he didn’t believe recusal was necessary, because the procedures involved in the sale means that it won’t be final until sometime this summer – long after the case is decided.

As Drug and Device Law Blog points out, the justices customarily vote on cases after they are heard in oral argument, and Wyeth was heard back in November, long before the acquisition was announced. Still, whether the events will affect the chief’s participation remains to be seen.

Chief justice vexed by politics of judicial confirmations

February 5, 2009

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. expressed concern that the process of confirming federal judges has become too politicized.

cjrobertsSpeaking at the University of Arizona’s law school Wednesday, Roberts said that the judiciary operates completely independent of the politics that are involved in both the executive and legislative branches. Politicized confirmation processes threaten that independence, Roberts said.

“I think we need to have a broader recognition that we are not part of the political process, that we are not representatives of either an administration or a confirming Senate on the court,” Roberts said, according to an AP report. “Your perspective on everything changes the moment you take the judicial oath.”

He said he is not alone in his worry over partisan judicial confirmations. “The courts as a whole are very concerned about partisanship, politicization, seeping into the judicial branch,” he said.

Roberts did add that he thinks his own Senate confirmation was fair, noting that he received “significant support from both sides of the aisle. But that’s not always the case, and what do we do about it?”

Biden gives Supreme apology

January 28, 2009

bidenrobertssmallJust when we thought we were done with the topic, another twist emerges in the ongoing fallout from Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.’s presidential oath flub.

Vice President Joe Biden – who cracked wise about Roberts’ trouble with the oath, much to President Barack Obama’s visible chagrin (see it here) – called and apologized to the chief justice for the remark.

Biden called Roberts some time last week, and the two had “a good conversation” according to Someone Who Knows.

The funniest justice, week 8: When the whole world laughed

January 22, 2009

cjrobertsThere was only one day of oral arguments at the Supreme Court this week. And the three cases heard yesterday did not provide much opportunity for laughter in the courtroom (that is, aside from the laughter in the press gallery as reporters rehashed the presidential oath flub heard around the world).

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. did manage to make the crowd laugh once inside the courtroom. While some court watchers were expecting him to make some sort of self-effacing comment regarding the trouble he had with President Barack Obama’s oath Tuesday – Roberts does, after all, have a pretty good sense of humor – he made no reference to it at all. (Legal Times’ Tony Mauro thinks he may have heard something in the way Roberts pronounced the word “clerk.” DC Dicta didn’t catch that, but we always defer to Tony’s ear, being the astute reporter that he is.)

Justice Stephen Breyer was the only other justice to get a laugh, which creates a real three-way contest in the quest to be the Funniest Justice of the term. Usually Justice Antonin Scalia runs away with it by now, but Nino better think of some funny quips quickly if he wants to stay in top.

Here are the laugh standings after eight weeks of oral arguments:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 29

Justice Stephen Breyer: 22

Chief Justice John Roberts: 20 (Not counting the laughs he may have received Tuesday)

Justice David Souter: 9

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 9

Justice John Paul Stevens: 6

Justice Samuel Alito: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0 (Thomas hasn’t made a remark during oral arguments since Feb. 22, 2006).

Obama, Roberts redo the oath

January 21, 2009

You really can’t make this stuff up.

Just when we thought the whole Oath-gate episode was finally winding down comes word that Chief Justice John G. Roberts re-administered the oath of office to President Barack Obama about an hour ago.

According to CNN, Obama retook the oath at about 7:35pm Wednesday in the White House Map Room. The move was perhaps to quell the conspiracy theories questioning whether the first oath, which was badly botched, actually took.

Constitutionally, Obama became president at noon Tuesday – no matter what he or the Chief Justice said. But the new administration just wanted dotted “i”s and crossed “t”s.

“We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday,” White House counsel Greg Craig said in a statement.

UPDATE: And now we have the official redo photo:


Biden gets a Supreme zinger in

January 21, 2009

bidenJust minutes ago, Vice President Joe Biden swore in members of the White House staff. Before doings so, he couldn’t help himself from making a joke:

“My memory is not as good as chief Justice Roberts,” Biden said, indicating he would read the oath to the new appointees instead of attempting to say it by heart as Roberts did with the presidential oath yesterday, to problematic results.

Biden’s quip drew laughs from the new staffers, as well as reporters.

UPDATE: As some tipsters have pointed out to DC Dicta, there was one person in attendance who clearly did not find Biden’s quip funny in the least: President Barack Obama. In this clip you can clearly see Obama grimace and shake his head at Biden’s remark. Obama also gave the vice president a little pat with his hand as if to say: “Just get on with it, Joe.”

Chatter about the Chief’s misplaced “faith”

January 21, 2009

obamaswearDespite yesterday’s administration handover in Washington, and all the pomp and circumstance involved, today the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed like any other. There was no real sense that anything had changed – except for the fact that the docket sheet indicated that Edwin Kneedler is now acting solicitor general, replacing Bush’s last appointee Gregory Garre.

But in the press box this morning, the reporters were all atwitter over yesterday’s presidential oath, which was, er, botched a bit by the Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

As reporters waited for the Court to come to session, the Court’s press corps was going over just what caused the Chief and President Barack Obama to have such a tough time with the 35-word oath.

The consensus: Roberts made a mistake in the timing of the oath – rather than pausing after Obama’s name, he continued, interrupting Obama with “do solemnly swear,” tripping up the incoming president a bit. Then he said a line from the oath in the wrong order, sticking the word “faithfully” in the wrong spot. Obama, clearly recognizing the error, sort of paused and nodded. This is when it got thorny.

Roberts tried to repeat the phrase by rearranging the words in the correct order. But instead of placing the “faithfully” back in its rightful place, Roberts mixed the words in a way that was nonsensical: “the office — faithfully the president — the office of president of the United States.”

As one longtime Supreme Court reporter recounted to his colleagues this morning: “He eventually got all the words out, but order was all mangled – like those poetry refrigerator magnets.” That got a laugh from the reporters and the audience members in earshot.

When the justices came into the room and Roberts called the Court to order, however, not another word was uttered about his mishap.

DC Dicta’s greatest hits of 2008

December 22, 2008

With 2008 almost in the history books, it’s a good time to take a look back at the most popular posts of the year here at DC Dicta. Looking back, the hottest items on the blog revolved around presidential campaign moments, Supreme Court shenanigans, celebrity testimony on the Hill, and the beleaguered Justice Department. Let’s count them down:

10. Mukasey: ‘Not every violation of the law is a crime’

mukaseyagComments made by Attorney General Michael Mukasey in August – particularly the quote: “Not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime” – circulated around the blogosphere and ultimately became a catchphrase to represent the problems plaguing the Justice Department in recent years.

9. The Funniest Justice: Antonin Scalia

scaliasideNo one leaves ‘em laughing in the courtroom like Justice Antonin Scalia, who handily won the title of Funniest Justice for the October 2007 term.

8. Kennedy winks in EEOC’s direction?

kennedy2After January oral arguments in Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC, this post noted that Justice Anthony “Swing Vote” Kennedy seemed to indicate pretty clearly that he believed the retirement benefits system in question discriminated on the basis of age – just as the EEOC contended. Although he did go on to find the program discriminatory, he was in the Court’s minority, writing the dissent in a case that did not at all adhere to the Court’s usual conservative vs. liberal breakdown. (Scalia and Ginsburg joined Kennedy’s dissent – when does that every happen?)

7. Actor to lawmakers: Let patients bring pharma suits

quaidMr. (Dennis) Quaid went to Washington. The actor, whose newborn twin daughters were accidentally given a nearly-lethal dose of the drug herapin, told lawmakers in May that without the right to sue pharmaceutical companies, consumers will become “uninformed and uncompensated lab rats.”

6. U.S. News law school rankings leaked!

When the folks at Above The Law put up a document showing the 2009 U.S. News & World Report law school rankings a few days before they were published in March, we sent you there.

5. McCain’s switch on Souter; Obama: Thomas isn’t too bright

thomas2Ah, remember that video of then presidential candidate Barack Obama basically saying Justice Clarence Thomas wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer? Of course you do! Many of you watched it right here in August.

4. Biden calls Court a Supreme campaign issue

bidenDuring the campaign season, now Vice President-elect Joe Biden was one of the most frequently searched subjects leading to DC Dicta. When he talked about the importance of the election in terms of potential Supreme Court nominees in August, the related post was one of the most popular blog items for weeks afterwards.

3. Cover blown off Chief Justice’s school visit

robertssmallWho knew Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. was so popular? Well, he obviously does – since he tried to clandestinely visit a local high school in March for a talk with students. But somehow word got out, newspaper reporters were there waiting for him, and DC Dicta readers wanted to know all about it.

2. 400 requests for reduced crack sentences in two days

crackWhen new reduced federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses, approved last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, went into effect retroactively in March, one day later more than 400 court orders from around the country slashing prison terms had been processed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

And the most hit blog post of the year (drumroll, please!):

1. High court denies Enron investors’ petition

enronThis Jan. 22 post noted that the Supreme Court, on the heels of its decision in Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific-Atlanta Inc., denied a petition by Enron investors seeking to pursue similar claims against bankers from firms including Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse Group. The move ended the investors’ actions claiming the bank companies colluded with Enron officials’ fraud.


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