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Any other time, it would be a big deal that the attorney general of the United States is arguing before the Supreme Court. But Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s debut in a morning coat on March 25 has been overshadowed by the historic Second Amendment case of D.C. v. Heller, set for March 18. Bloggers are urging anyone who wants a seat for Heller to line up the day before. But Mukasey’s half-hour appearance in the so-called “millenium bomber” case of United States v. Ahmed Ressam is notable. Predecessors Alberto Gonzales and John Ashcroft passed up the chance to argue at the high court, a courtesy offered to attorneys general by tradition. And their predecessors, Janet Reno and William Barr, argued for only 10 minutes as amicus curiae. Barr borrowed a morning coat from a lawyer in the solicitor general’s office, and Reno did not wear one; they’re not required for women arguing for the government. No word on where Mukasey will get his jacket, but he’ll need some kind of armor. Justices are not overly impressed by AGs and don’t cut them much slack. Dick Thornburgh was roughed up in a 1989 case, but did better in another argument in 1991. Still, AGs are given likely winners to argue, and Ressam, an appeal from the oft-overturned U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, may be no different. Nicholas Katzenbach argued pro se, so to speak, and won the landmark 1966 voting rights case South Carolina v. Katzenbach. Griffin Bell used a prop — a dead snail darter in a vial — and lost in the Endangered Species Act case TVA v. Hill in 1978. No props likely for Mukasey; his case turns on explosives found in Ressam’s car that added 10 years to his sentence.
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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