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A U.S. Supreme Court contender and longtime fixture in the conservative legal landscape, J. Michael Luttig made a sudden announcement in early May that he was leaving the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit immediately to become general counsel of The Boeing Company. 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 Bush’s shortlist for the recent Supreme Court vacancies filled by John Roberts, Jr., and Samuel Alito, Jr. The prospects for another white male to be named to the next vacancy appear slim, but Luttig says his high court chances were not a factor. “This was a larger decision about my life and my family.” The 51-year-old also says 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 says 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 through the nominations process. Luttig says Duberstein called him in April with news of the impending retirement of Boeing GC Douglas Bain. Luttig traveled to corporate headquarters in Chicago to meet with the 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.” 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 says that once he had decided to leave, he felt he should go immediately. Remaining on the bench after having accepted a private-sector job “just didn’t feel right” ethically, he says, though he adds that he was not aware of any Boeing cases before the Fourth Circuit. Luttig readily acknowledges that the low salary of federal judges was a factor in his decision. He has two children approaching college age, and family obligations weighed heavily in his decision. After 15 years on the appeals bench, he earned $175,100 a year. He declines to state his new salary but says, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that in his discussions with Boeing, “all I asked was that they match my current salary.” At Jones Day’s D.C. office, where three former Luttig clerks work, partner Gregory Castanias says Luttig’s departure serves as a reminder of the impact of low judicial salaries, especially on those who join the bench young. “Being on the court for the rest of your life starting at age 40 may not be the best career path,” says Castanias. Luttig was 37 when the first President Bush nominated him. In announcing its decision to hire Luttig, Boeing cited the judge’s national security and defense � related experience. Luttig says that in his position in the U.S. Department of Justice’s office of legal counsel in the George Bush administration, he was often involved in legal matters relating to the first Gulf War. Luttig’s decision took many by surprise, including his former law clerks who have fanned out to different segments of the legal community. Almost all of these so-called Luttigators 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?’ ” says longtime court watcher David Garrow, a professor at Cambridge University.

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