Alito has a working birthday

April 1, 2009

alito1Some jobs allow for a day off on one’s birthday. (Even DC Dicta took a day!) Being a Supreme Court justice is not one of those jobs.

Today, Justice Samuel Alito, who was on the bench hearing oral arguments in the case Polar Tankers, Inc. v. City of Valdez,  turned 59.


You say O’Connor, I say Ginsburg

March 31, 2009

Even the most seasoned Supreme Court litigator can misspeak when standing in front of the nine justices at oral argument.

carterphillipsToday at the Supreme Court, Carter G. Phillips, who has argued before the high court more than five dozen times during his tenure both at the Justice Department and at Sidley Austin, had a little trouble keeping the justices straight.

While discussing a concurrence written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in an employment discrimination case, Phillips said: “Justice Ginsburg provides the formulation that the lower courts can use to try to provide some kind of a jury instruction.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, hearing the mistake, corrected Phillips.

“Justice O’Connor,” Ginsburg said.

“Did I say Ginsburg?” Phillips asked.

“Yes,” Ginsburg replied, as member of the audience began to laugh.

“I’m going to hear about this one,” Phillips said. “I apologize.”

A little later, Phillips slipped again. After a lengthy exchange with Justice Stephen Breyer, Phillips addressed him as “Justice Ginsburg.”

The next question was posed by Justice Ginsburg. In that instance, Phillips addressed her correctly.

The transcript for that case, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, can be found here.

Thomas: Self-indulgent Americans don’t sacrifice

March 17, 2009

thomas3At a time when the government is being called on more and more to help businesses and citizens struggling in a faltering economy, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas admonished Americans for being self-indulgent, and expecting a lot while sacrificing little.

“Today the message seems to be, ‘Ask not what you can do for yourselves and your country, but what your country can do for you,'” Thomas said during a speech at Virginia’s Washington and Lee University yesterday.

He contrasted his own experience as a southern boy – an experience recounted in his recent autobiography. While his grandfather taught him the value of pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps, Thomas said, Americans today are waiting for the government to help.

“These days, there seems to be little emphasis on responsibility, sacrifice and self-denial,” Thomas said. “Rarely do we hear a message of sacrifice, unless it is used as a justification of taxation of others or a transfer of wealth to others.”

More here from The Richmand Times-Dispatch.

Ginsburg hints at soon-to-come Supreme Court vacancy

March 13, 2009

rbginsburgJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hinted today that a vacancy could soon come up on the U.S. Supreme Court. But she didn’t say just who might be leaving.

In recent months, speculation has swirled over the possibility of Supreme Court retirements, fueled by the election of President Barack Obama and issues with several liberal-leaning Justices (Justice John Paul Stevens is 89, Ginsburg herself is a two-time cancer survivor, and Justice David Souter is said to be totally over the whole Washington thing).

Today Ginsburg threw more fuel on the rumor fire during an event at New England Law in Boston, according to the AP. Noting that the justices only take official pictures together when a new member is added, Ginsburg said: “We haven’t had any of those for some time, but surely we will soon.”

The 76-year-old justice didn’t elaborate, nor did she take questions from reporters at the event. But she did speak to students about a host of things, from words of wisdom that retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a fellow cancer survivor, gave her, to the fact that Souter took her to the opera when her husband was ailing. “He never goes out, so people were amazed to see him,” Ginsberg said, according to The Boston Globe.

And she used the opportunity to show she is indeed a funny justice. “If I could have asked God to give me any talent in the world, I would never have been a lawyer, I’d be a great diva,” she said.

More drama in Anna Nicole Smith legal case: UPDATED

March 13, 2009

ansmith2UPDATE: And just like that, the Supreme dream died. Today Justice Anthony Kennedy denied Stern’s petition to lift the stay in the case.

Today, relatives of the late E. Pierce Marshall asked the U.S. Supreme Court not to lift a stay preventing the estate of ex-Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith from collecting more than $88 million from Marshall’s estate. Meanwhile, the lawyer who petitioned the Court to life that stay got arrested yesterday.

These are but the latest installments in the ongoing real-life serial legal drama over the fortune left by Smith’s husband, oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II.

On Monday, attorney and former Smith flame Howard K. Stern asked the high court to lift a court-imposed stay to a federal judgment granting Smith the cash. E. Pierce Marshall, the oil magnate’s son, fought Smith over the money, which she said the older Marshall promised her during their brief marriage. Stern said the petition was made on behalf of Smith’s daughter, Danielynn, who is the sole heir to Smith’s estate.

The judgment was stayed while the case was appealed on a plethora of issues, including a jurisdictional question that went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2006. Later that year, the younger Marshall died, and Smith died of an accidental overdose a year later.

Today, the younger Marshall’s widow, Elaine Marshall, filed a response to Stern’s petition in the Supreme Court. She asked the justices to keep the order preventing Smith’s estate from collecting the $88.5 million until the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sorts out the tangle of competing claims.

Meanwhile, Stern was arrested and charged yesterday, along with two doctors, with illegally providing Smith with addictive prescription drugs under a false name.

Anna Nicole Smith’s suit headed back to the Supremes?

March 10, 2009

smithSince taking their battle over the estate of oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II all the way to the Supreme Court in 2006, both Marshall’s widow, stripper-turned-model-turned-reality star Anna Nicole Smith and his son, E. Pierce Marshall, have died.

But the legal skirmish may reach the high court once again. Yesterday lawyers for Smith’s estate petitioned the Supreme Court to help settle the matter.

You may recall that Smith married 89-year-old Marshall when she was 26. After his death, a federal judge awarded her $88.5 million, but Pierce Marshall claimed the estate was bequeathed to him alone.

The award was stayed as the case was appealed to the 9th Circuit and ultimately to the Supreme Court (on the question of whether the claim could proceed in federal court or state bankruptcy court). After the high court ruled that the suit could go forward in federal court, Marshall was accused of transferring millions of dollars out of his possession in an effort to hide them from Smith. Within two years, both Smith and the younger Marshall had died.

Now Smith’s estate is asking the Supreme Court to intervene so the award can be granted before the remainder of Marshall’s fortune is gone. Court papers claim only $125 million remains.

“[Smith’s] estate will undeniably suffer irreparable harm if the stay is not vacated, as Pierce’s executor claims there is no money to pay the district court judgment, and [Smith’s] estate cannot pursue Pierce’s missing billions unless and until the stay is vacated,” Smith’s lawyers said Monday.

The funniest ex-justice

March 4, 2009

oconnorAfter taking in oral arguments at the Supreme Court Tuesday morning, retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor went to the set of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show as a guest.

The appearance gave O’Connor, who went on the show to promote her civics website, a chance to show off her comic skills. And she held her own against the show’s host, Jon Stewart.

“You were known in your days as a moderate justice, one that was not ideological. So clearly you would not be able to be on the Court today,” Stewart joked.

“I don’t know, I was just a cowgirl,” O’Connor laughed, “and they don’t have too many of those around these days.”

“And you were the first woman on the Court,” Steward noted.

“The first cowgirl!” O’Connor interjected, drawing laughs from the crowd.

When O’Connor spoke of often having to break 4-4 ties on the Court during her tenure, and Stewart referred to her as a swing justice, she objected.

“We don’t use that word – swing,” she said. “I mean, come on,” she continued before making a swinging noise and swinging her hands from side to side to the audience’s delight. “No, no-no!”

Steward corrected himself, calling her instead “the most principled justice.”

“There you go!” O’Connor said. “Much better! Much better.

“He’s a fast learner,” she told the audience, who again erupted in laughter, applause and hoots.

See the video here on Comedy Central’s website.