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During his distinguished 20-year tenure as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where he wrote more than 800 opinions, John Gibbons built up a stockpile of credibility. A Nixon appointee, he had a reputation as a liberal-leaning judge who was exceedingly fair. Since retiring from the bench, he hasn’t let his name collect dust on his old decisions. In 1990 Gibbons returned to Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, the firm he began his career with in 1950. Since then, he has founded a fellowship program that funds full-time associates to practice public interest and constitutional law and used his stature as a former judge to address some of the most controversial cases. His dedication to pro bono work has earned him the nickname as the firm’s “acid rainmaker.” “[My colleagues] don’t mind a little acid rain,” says Gibbons, who turned 80 in December. Last spring, Gibbons took on the U.S. Department of Defense. In two landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, Gibbons successfully argued that the U.S. government could not hold detainees indefinitely in Guant�namo Bay, Cuba, without habeas corpus review. In his opening statement, Gibbons said that at stake was “the authority of the federal courts to uphold the rule of law,” and warned that if left unchecked, the government’s position would create “a lawless enclave insulating the executive branch from any judicial scrutiny now or in the future.” Such rhetoric might not have gone down as easily if it came from a political maverick. But Gibbons, a Republican who served in the Navy during World War II, is anything but. That’s why New York University School of Law professor Anthony Amsterdam, who also represented detainees, recommended that Gibbons handle the oral arguments. Gibbons has also lent his voice to death penalty cases, famously calling capital punishment an “arbitrary imposition of revenge.” And he has participated in groundbreaking cases. In 2000 Gibbons became the first lawyer to convince the Supreme Court to award relief on a habeas corpus petition based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Gibbons, who often pauses before answering questions, doesn’t hesitate to say why he has devoted so much time to the issue. “I have pretty good lawyer skills,” he says. “It seems to me this is the kind of thing that a person with my skills ought to dedicate time to.” Back to Main Story

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