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WASHINGTON � Appeals Judge J. Michael Luttig, a Supreme Court contender and longtime fixture of the conservative legal landscape, made a sudden announcement Wednesday that he was leaving the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals immediately for the job of senior vice president and general counsel of the Boeing Co. Luttig, a former law clerk to the late Chief Justice Warren Burger and to Antonin Scalia when Scalia was an appeals judge, was on President Bush’s short list for the recent Supreme Court vacancies filled by John Roberts and Samuel Alito. The prospects for another white male to be named to the next vacancy appear slim, but in an interview Wednesday, Luttig said his high court chances were not a factor. “This was a larger decision about my life and my family.” The 51-year-old judge also agreed that taking the corporate job does not close the door to future public service, noting that in recent years there have been suggestions that Supreme Court justices be picked from outside the bench. Luttig said the Boeing opportunity was a case of “sheer serendipity” that came via former White House Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein, a high-powered lobbyist and chairman of the Duberstein Group, who is a member of the Boeing board of directors. Luttig and Duberstein worked closely together during the first Bush administration to shepherd then-Supreme Court nominees David Souter and Clarence Thomas though the nominations process. Luttig said that Duberstein called him several weeks ago with news of the impending retirement of Boeing counsel Douglas Bain. Luttig traveled to corporate headquarters in Chicago to meet with Boeing’s new CEO, James McNerney. In his resignation letter to the president, Luttig said he quickly learned that McNerney is “one of the most impressive business leaders in America.” Once Luttig made the decision to leave, he said he felt he should go immediately. Continuing in a judgeship after having accepted a private sector job “just didn’t feel right” ethically, Luttig said, though he added he was not aware of any Boeing cases before the Fourth Circuit. In his letter to Bush, Luttig said his new position would in a sense continue his public service “because of the central role that the Boeing Co. plays in the nation’s defense and security.” Luttig readily acknowledged that the low salary of federal judges was a factor in his decision. Luttig has two children approaching college age, and family obligations weighed heavily in his decision. After 15 years on the appeals bench, Luttig was paid $175,100 a year. He declined to state his new salary but said, somewhat tongue in cheek, that in his discussions with Boeing “all I asked was that they match my current salary.” The likelihood is that his new salary will be many times more than his judicial pay. A White House spokeswoman said, “The president regrets the loss of Judge Luttig’s distinguished service on the federal judiciary but respects his decision and wishes him and his family the best.” In announcing its decision to hire Luttig, Boeing cited the judge’s national security and defense-related experience. Luttig said that in his position in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in the George H.W. Bush administration, he was often involved in legal matters relating to the first Gulf War. More recently, Luttig was immersed in national security issues as a judge on the Fourth Circuit, which has handled many of the legal disputes that have arisen from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. He has usually, but not always, sided with the Bush administration in its assertion of broad war-related powers for the executive branch. Luttig also had a personal connection to the events of that day. He had presided over the wedding of Theodore and Barbara Olson, and he spoke at the funeral of Barbara, a passenger on one of the hijacked planes. “This is a tremendous opportunity for him, and I wasn’t completely surprised,” said Olson, former U.S. solicitor general and currently a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington. “As a person and as a judge, he is someone the conservative legal community has admired a great deal.” Olson’s comment underscores Luttig’s deep connections to the conservative legal movement in Washington. The leadership of the Bush Justice Department is full of former Luttig law clerks, and many D.C. law firms have hired former Luttig clerks, known for exacting research and writing. At Jones Day’s D.C. office, where three former Luttig clerks work, partner Gregory Castanias said that Luttig’s departure means “one fewer feeder judges.” He also said it was a reminder of the impact of low judicial salaries, especially on those who, like Luttig, joined the bench at a relatively young age. “Being on the court for the rest of your life starting at age 40 may not be the best career path,” Castanias said. Luttig was 37 when the first President Bush nominated him, making him at the time the youngest federal appeals court judge in the nation. Luttig’s decision took many by surprise Wednesday, including his former law clerks, known as “Luttigators,” who have fanned out to different segments of the legal community in the 15 years Luttig has been on the bench. Almost all of Luttig’s clerks have gone on to clerk for the Supreme Court. “The first question we all need to now ask is, Where are justices going to get their clerks from?” said longtime court watcher David Garrow, a professor at Cambridge University. Tony Mauro is the U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for Legal Times, a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C.

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