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Washington-Judge J. Michael Luttig, a U.S. Supreme Court contender and longtime fixture of the conservative legal landscape, announced last week that he was leaving the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the job of senior vice president and general counsel of 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 George W. Bush’s short list for the recent Supreme Court vacancies filled by John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. The prospect of another white male being named to fill the next vacancy appears slim, but in a May 10 interview, 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 public service, noting that recently there have been suggestions that Supreme Court justices be picked from outside the bench. ‘Sheer serendipity’ Luttig said that 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 member of the Boeing board of directors. Luttig and Duberstein worked closely together during the first Bush administration to shepherd David H. Souter and Clarence Thomas though the Supreme Court 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 called McNerney “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 4th 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 Company 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 on his thinking. 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.”

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