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Burt Neuborne recalls the day in the late 1960s when Bruce Ennis showed up in the offices of the New York Civil Liberties Union looking for a job. “He came in wearing a pinstripe suit, which wasn’t exactly the usual attire back then,” says Neuborne, now a professor at New York University School of Law. “Our first take was, ‘This guy’s not going to be happy here.’ “ Nonetheless, Ennis was hired, was happy, and eventually became Neuborne’s predecessor as legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “He was the best lawyer the ACLU ever produced — no question about it,” says Neuborne. Ennis, who died July 29 at age 60 after a nearly two-year battle with leukemia, also became one of the best, if not the best, modern-day advocates before the U.S. Supreme Court. He argued 16 cases — three while at the ACLU, the rest at his own firm or, since 1988, with Jenner & Block. With a booming baritone voice and a presence that was forceful but never arrogant, Ennis mastered the art of quenching the justices’ curiosity and calming their concerns, in ways that served his clients and often advanced the cause of the First Amendment and civil liberties at the same time. His deft advocacy broke ground in areas ranging from mental health law to First Amendment protection for the Internet and earned Ennis a long list of admirers and friends. He was universally described as a brilliant, creative lawyer, as well as a decent and unassuming family man. “Bruce Ennis was the best of lawyers, a caring colleague, and a brave human,” said Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who worked with Ennis in the early 1970s. “He earned the respect of my colleagues for the reliability of the briefs bearing his name, and for his engaging, hardly ever at a loss, conversations with us at oral argument.” Solicitor General Seth Waxman, Ennis’ unsuccessful adversary in Reno v. ACLU, the 1997 Internet case, also said, “He personified the very best of the Supreme Court Bar, and more important was a prince of a human being.” “When the going got rough, he had a sense of strength and calm that was unique,” said David Ogden, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division. “He died too young.” Ogden, who described Ennis as “my mentor” in nearly 20 years of association, also said Ennis made a point of spending time with younger lawyers, helping Jenner & Block’s D.C. office develop as a magnet for talented new professionals. His colleagues at Chicago-based Jenner & Block were shocked as the news of his death in a Boston hospital began to spread. Ennis had rallied after recent treatments for his disease and had gone with his family to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., to regain his strength, so the last news that many had heard was positive. But an infection overtook Ennis in his weakened condition. The annual firm dinner last week included fond remembrances of Ennis. But no formal ceremonies will take place until after Labor Day, colleagues say. “He was a wonderful man, a sweet guy to work with,” said Jenner & Block colleague Paul Smith. COURT STAR But it is as a Supreme Court advocate that Ennis may be best remembered. He won 11 of the 16 cases he argued. His preparation for argument was legendary. No matter how late in the game he took on a case, Ennis wanted to know everything about its background and about his client. In 1997, when he was hired to argue a civil RICO case on behalf of a Milwaukee farm equipment firm in Klehr v. A.O. Smith Corp., Ennis traveled to farm country and became a fast expert on silos and cattle feed. In the commercial speech case Rubin v. Coors Brewing Corp. in 1995, Ennis’ meticulous preparation earned him a permanent place in Supreme Court lore. Ennis, arguing on behalf of Coors, challenged a federal restriction on beer labels. But what Justice Antonin Scalia wanted to know during oral argument seemed like a trivia question: what was the difference between beer and ale? Without missing a beat, Ennis told him that ale resulted from a “top fermentation process,” while beer came from the bottom. Stunned Coors officials in the audience later said they could not have answered the question themselves. But Ennis, it so happened, had come across a technical explanation of the brewing process in the transcript of a 1934 congressional hearing that he read in preparation for arguments. The beer-ale colloquy has been memorialized in a guidebook for counsel arguing before the Supreme Court that is issued by the Court’s clerk, under the heading “Know your client’s business.” Without mentioning the names of Ennis or Scalia, the entry noted that “the justice who posed the question thanked the counsel in a warm and gracious manner.” Coors won the case 9-0. But Ennis was not just prepared for trivia questions. He was also ready strategically, in many instances devising three different answers to questions he expected to be asked. The answer he picked depended on which justice asked the question. If the query came from a hostile justice, Ennis had a quick reply ready that would enable him to change the subject fast. If it came from a justice he thought he could persuade, he had an answer ready with his best argument. A third answer was reserved for justices he already thought were on his side. “If he knew he had three justices in his pocket going in, he focused his argument on winning two more,” said Ogden. “He had a sense of the whole package.” The package also included attire. Ennis dressed impeccably when he went before the Court, believing that the justices deserved quality — not only in his arguments but in his bearing and demeanor. Ennis’ strategic brilliance saved the day in Pacific Mutual Life v. Haslip, a 1991 case that many thought would lead to a ruling finding punitive damages unconstitutional. Ennis argued in favor of an insurance fraud victim who had won $1 million in punitive damages. “Everyone thought the Court would just whack the tort system,” recalled Ogden. “Nobody though we’d win.” But Ennis beat back the opposition, placing heavy emphasis on a historical argument that punitive damages have been around for a long time — a point aimed at the Court’s “original intent” conservatives. The Court ruled 8-0 in Ennis’ favor. It was that kind of strategizing that led Neuborne and others in 1997 to decide that Ennis should argue against the government and the Communications Decency Act in the Internet case Reno v. ACLU. Both Ennis, who was representing the American Library Association and other plaintiffs, and Chris Hansen, the ACLU’s able counsel of record, wanted to argue. To help the clients make the choice, Ennis offered a typically common-sense solution: the two would “compete” in a moot court before Neuborne, Erwin Chemerinsky, and E. Barrett Prettyman Jr. After the moot court, the panel voted 2 to 1 to go with Ennis over Hansen. “It was a painful choice,” recalls Neuborne. “Both would have done a fabulous job. But in a case of that importance, you have to go with the best. And Bruce was the best.”

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