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Nothing says welcome to Washington to a new judge like a case full of acronyms that only wonkish Beltway dwellers can appreciate. That’s how Janice Rogers Brown and Thomas Griffith will be initiated into the complex but largely nonideological work of refereeing federal agencies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Before Brown this month will be a dispute over a plan that would create a hunting season for the trumpeter swan, and Griffith will hear an appeal involving the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. But in other cases, the judges could have the opportunity to place a personal stamp. In Gregory Thomas v. George Washington University, Brown will hear the case of a man with a paralyzed leg who is appealing a lower court decision that threw out a favorable jury verdict. Gregory Thomas, a medical resident at GW who lost his position, sued the university for race and disability discrimination. The school claims his performance was poor and that he has an impairment, as opposed to a disability covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act. As a California Supreme Court justice, Brown had been at odds with colleagues on questions of discrimination and disability. In a 2001 case, Brown split from the majority by advocating for a more limited legal recourse for a disabled worker whose employer did not accommodate her disability. Brown and Griffith are scheduled to hear seven cases together this fall. On Sept. 16 the judges will hear M.K., et al. v. Porter Goss, a class action filed by Central Intelligence Agency staffers who say the government obstructed their efforts to obtain effective counsel in employment cases. According to court records, one appellant claims they were told that “national security was more important than her right to an attorney.” An unusual question at the intersection of government regulation and medical ethics will come before Griffith. The Washington Legal Foundation wants the Food and Drug Administration to allow medicines in early stages of clinical trials that haven’t yet been deemed safe by the agency to be made available to terminally ill patients. But the clearest signs of where Brown and Griffith stand�and the degree of independence they will hold from their colleagues�will likely be in dissents, which have been rare on the D.C. Circuit. Because of the workload, “writing a dissent on the appeals court takes a lot of effort,” says Frank Cross, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “So dissents often tell you which judges are really ideologues.”
Lily Henning can be contacted at [email protected].

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