FIRST ONE @ ONE FIRST

SCOTUSReligion

Posted in Clairvoyance, Law and Politics by Mike Sacks on March 8, 2010

Bob Barnes at the Washington Post has a column today that discusses whether the days of the Court’s religiously-reserved seats are over:

Here’s the kind of question that might violate the rules you learned about proper dinner conversation: Does President Obama’s next Supreme Court nominee need to be a Protestant?

If Justice John Paul Stevens decides to call it a career after he turns 90 next month, the Supreme Court would for the first time in its history be without a justice belonging to America’s largest religious affiliations.

Turns out I’ve violated dinner conversation etiquette several times since I started F1@1F in December.

As I stated on F1@1F’s first day, I believe Obama will nominate Judge Diane Wood to preserve what has now become “the W.A.S.P. seat” when Stevens retires.   For this reason (though not only this reason) I disagree with Tom Goldstein’s prediction at SCOTUSBlog that Solicitor General Elena Kagan will be Stevens’s successor.

In fact, Kagan may have time yet before she gets her much-expected nomination to the bench.  I think Justice Ginsburg’s successor will be a person of color from a yet-to-be represented ethnic group.  Only when Justice Breyer retires will the President seek to preserve the Jewish seat.

By then, however, Kagan’s window may be closed by age or the President’s party affiliation.  And no amount of goodwill Kagan built up among the conservative legal professoriate during her Harvard Law deanship will compel a GOP President to nominate her.

A Difficult Case, Indeed

Posted in Case Reports by Mike Sacks on February 23, 2010

This report is cross-posted at the ABA Journal’s website.  Read here, read there, comment and share everywhere!

Early in this morning’s oral argument in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, Justice Anthony Kennedy plainly remarked, “this is a difficult case for me.”  The issue was whether a 1996 federal law banning “material support” to designated terrorist organizations infringed on the First Amendment rights of a group seeking to train Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Sri Lanka’s now-defeated Tamil Tigers in international law advocacy and peacemaking.

But Kennedy’s pondering the disputed law’s ephemeral distinction between proscribable conduct and protected speech appeared to come to an abrupt halt when Solicitor General Elena Kagan conceded to Justice Kennedy that the law could ban lawyers from submitting amicus briefs on behalf of designated terrorist organizations.  Here was the government telling attorneys who they could and could not represent in a court of law–not a winning argument before a tribunal of, well, attorneys.

The Court’s liberal bloc–Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor–had already displayed their skepticism towards the government’s asserted ability to criminalize speech meant to assist a terrorist organization’s legal activities.  Sotomayor even suggested that “[u]nder the definition of this statute, teaching these members to play the harmonica would be unlawful.”

In response Kagan quipped, “I think the first thing I would say is there are not a whole lot of people going around trying to teach Al-Qaeda how to play harmonicas.”  Justice Antonin Scalia, the lone vocal supporter of the government’s argument, saved the Court further talk of harmonicas by shoving Sotomayor’s hypothetical into an absurd vision of chief 9/11 hijacker “Mohammed Atta and his harmonica quartet” touring the country to “make a lot of money.”

Meanwhile, Justice Clarence Thomas just this week marked his streak of silence’s fourth anniversary, but one could assume he’d ally with Scalia in this case, given his previous willingness to prohibit intensely disfavored expressive activity by casting it as pure conduct.

If Kagan’s amicus-ban assertion seemed to crystallize for Kennedy the infirmity of the law in question, Justice Alito may have fallen off the government’s wagon when Kagan explained that Congress did not intend to criminalize one’s meeting with or joining a designated terrorist organization.  Queried Alito:

Could you explain how someone could be a member of one of these organizations without providing a service to the organization? Simply by lending one’s name as a member; that might be regarded as a service. If you attended a meeting and you helped to arrange the chairs in advance or clean up afterwards, you would be providing a service to the organization.

However, Alito may have asked this question simply to get Kagan to walk back her distinction between simple membership and criminal service-providing so that he could more easily side with the government.  After all, he was the sole supporter of the government’s position in United States v. Stevens, in which the Court is likely to rule a federal ban on depictions of animal cruelty to be an unconstitutionally overbroad restriction on speech.  But walk it back Kagan did not.

Even if Alito still finds a way to join Scalia, even if the loquacious Kennedy forgets that lawyers may be silenced, and even if silent Thomas sides at conference with Sotomayor, Chief Justice Roberts signaled an openness to killing the law as applied to HLP.  That is, as long as the Court got no government blood on its hands.

During HLP counsel David D. Cole‘s rebuttal, Roberts asked, “why don’t we remand it to the lower courts to apply strict scrutiny if we agree with you that” the law does, in fact, prohibit pure speech as opposed to conduct that incidentally touches speech?

Cole quickly endorsed this plan, knowing that strict scrutiny is nearly always “strict in theory, but fatal in fact.”

But just as soon as Chief Justice Roberts offered up a pleasing resolution for this “difficult” case, Justice Sotomayor jumped in to close the morning with the argument that if money is speech–as the Court strongly affirmed in Citizens United–then Congress could have been onto something after all when it found that money is so fungible that “if you give [terrorist groups] money for legitimate means…it’s going to be syphoned off and used for illegitimate means.”  Such a justification for a ban on money-as-speech, Sotomayor suggested, could be “enough under strict scrutiny or under a lesser standard, reasonable fit standard.”

Perhaps Sotomayor believed this, perhaps she was trying to impress upon her conservative colleagues the duty they owed to HLP if they were to remain fully faithful to the First Amendment principles they forcefully articulated in Citizens United.

Either way, Sotomayor’s mixed signals forced the Court to submit HLP the same way it entered: a difficult case, indeed.

Two Vacancies this Summer?

Posted in Clairvoyance by Mike Sacks on February 4, 2010

ABC’s Ariane de Vogue writes:

Lawyers for President Obama have been working behind the scenes to prepare for the possibility of one, and maybe two Supreme Court vacancies this spring.

Court watchers believe two of the more liberal members of the court, justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, could decide to step aside for reasons of age and health. That would give the president his second and third chance to shape his legacy on the Supreme Court.

I do believe Stevens will retire and that Judge Diane Wood will be his nominated successor.  But I deeply question that Ginsburg intends to step down.  As National Law Journal’s Tony Mauro reported a little over a year ago (and, due to a paywall, as conveyed by the WSJ Law Blog):

Not so fast, says Mauro. “If anyone asks you, ‘When is she retiring?’ ” Ginsburg reportedly said at a law clerks’ reunion last June, “tell them I have a great role model in Justice [John Paul] Stevens, who is going strong at age 88.” Ginsburg, 75, would have to sit on the bench until 2021 to match Stevens’s tenure.

However, Ginsburg’s health scares since then, including pancreatic cancer and a spill on an airplane, may have changed her mind.  If so, I submit the following prospects:

After Obama’s firefight with the GOP over the very liberal and quite white Judge Wood, he will send up a moderate/center-left nominee of color. Hence Ward, Katyal, and Koh.

Because Breyer will remain on the bench if Ginsburg retires, there will be no need to fill the “Jewish seat.”  That puts Kagan, Sunstein, and Waxman on the back burner for the third vacancy.  And only Kagan will be young enough to be nominated by then, given the present robustness of the other justices in the over-70 club (Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer).

Patrick is at the bottom because he is running for reelection this year and I believe Obama will choose a black woman before he puts another black man on the Court.  After all, I think Obama himself may be the Court’s third male African-American justice after he leaves office.

—-

UPDATE: Since this writing, I’ve been somewhat disabused of my Harold Koh suggestion.  Let me offer Denny Chin and Goodwin Liu as two other possible Asian-American nominees for when Ginsburg steps down NOT this summer.

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