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“Say enough is enough,” Carter Phillips urged the Supreme Court justices on March 30 at oral argument in a key case dealing with the scope of the Alien Tort Claims Act. The statute, which goes back to 1789, has been used extensively in recent years by human rights groups to challenge alleged abuses committed abroad by large businesses. In the case, Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, Phillips, managing partner of the D.C. office of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, represented Jose Francisco Sosa, a Mexican national asked by the Drug Enforcement Administration to help abduct a murder suspect in 1990 and place him in federal custody. The murder suspect was acquitted of that crime and filed a civil suit against Sosa. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a $25,000 fine against Sosa under the alien tort act. At the argument, the 51-year-old Phillips,one of the acknowledged deans of the Supreme Court bar, told the Court that the statute had been used indiscriminately by plaintiffs and was posing a threat to U.S. businesses. Phillips’ “enough is enough” statement typified the direct, folksy style for which he has become known. “I try to be as conversational as I can be,” says Phillips, a veteran of 42 high court arguments, including five in the 2003-04 term, an extraordinarily large number for a private practitioner. “I want to make the justices feel comfortable,” he says. “When Rex Lee stood up at the podium, you could see the justices relax. You knew he wouldn’t dodge any issue and would deal with every issue forthrightly.” Lee, the former Sidley partner and former solicitor general who died in 1996, was Phillips’ principal mentor. Sosa proved to be a 9-0 win for Phillips’ immediate client when the Court ruled on June 29 that the suspect’s brief illegal detention, which was followed by a transfer to the legal authorities, did not rise to the level of a violation of the alien tort law. In another case in the 2003-04 term, Phillips won a unanimous ruling last December in Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez on a key Americans With Disabilities Act issue. The Court ruled 7-0 that a company with a uniform policy not to rehire employees who were dismissed for misconduct did not violate the ADA when it declined to rehire a former employee who was a recovering drug addict. Phillips, a graduate of Northwestern University Law School, clerked for Judge Robert Sprecher of the 7th Circuit and for Chief Justice Warren Burger. He joined Sidley after serving as assistant to the solicitor general for three years. Phillips has long been a go-to attorney in a wide variety of business and insurance cases, and he has also represented charities, Indian tribes, and governments before the Court. “Carter’s ability to deal with the give and take that goes on at the Court and to steer the justices back to the core theme is outstanding,” says Theodore Frois, general counsel of an ExxonMobil division. Frois has turned to Phillips frequently for appellate work on issues regarding highly valuable offshore leases. “The justices respect Carter tremendously,” Frois says. “He can communicate to them what is important about a case in 30 seconds.” In addition to his practice of adopting a conversational tone, Phillips says he “tries to go back to first principles” in every Supreme Court case. My approach is to take nothing for granted, not to worry about what the lower courts have done, and to begin fresh from scratch,” Phillips explains. “That’s how the Supreme Court approaches the issue.” It’s also important, Phillips says, to collaborate with the lawyers who have been working on the case for years before it reached the Supreme Court. “You need to negotiate through all the strong personalities in a way that is respectful and also protects the client’s interest. That’s as important as anything I do,” Phillips says.

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