Washington Wrap is a weekly look at the biggest legal industry news and Big Law moves shaping the legal business in Washington, D.C. Send tips and lateral moves to Ryan Lovelace at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Federalist Society’s annual convention in Washington, D.C., has historically given the public a glimpse into the legal minds guiding President Donald Trump and those overseeing the federal judiciary. Given turnover at the White House counsel’s office, Justice Department and the U.S. Supreme Court, the Federalist Society’s 2018 convention yielded clues about who could be in line to lead government in the years to come.
It was the judges on Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court shortlist who drew the biggest crowds. Williams & Connolly partner Kannon Shanmugam’s warm greeting to Judge Amy Coney Barrett during Thursday’s panel on stare decisis winked at her status as the perceived runner-up to Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Shanmugam was a panelist while Barrett, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, moderated the event titled “The Future of the Past: Stare Decisis.”
“It’s a particular pleasure to be here with Judge Barrett, who clerked for Justice Scalia the year before I did and who, in fact, interviewed me,” Shanmugam said Thursday. “Judge, welcome back to Washington, and I hope you’ll come back for good sometime soon.” His remarks were then interrupted by loud applause.
Barrett’s future as a potential justice-in-waiting was not lost on Shanmugam’s fellow panelists either. Neil Eggleston, a Kirkland & Ellis partner and former White House counsel to President Barack Obama, pointedly avoided discussing high court precedent steered his way by Barrett.
“So I’ve also read your article, and since Kirkland is based in Chicago, I won’t comment on it more than that,” Eggleston said with a smile regarding Barrett’s writing on stare decisis.
Barrett also dodged issues she apparently wanted to avoid, as evidenced by her dismissal of Georgetown University Law Center professor John Baker’s desire to turn the panel discussion over to her as an expert on stare decisis.
One questioner rose to ask specifically about Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court decision permitting legal abortion, and noted that Barrett may wish to not answer the query. All eyes turned to Barrett, who stood at the head of the room where others were seated, including Leonard Leo, a Trump adviser on the Supreme Court and judiciary, and Americans United for Life senior counsel Clarke Forsythe.
“Kannon?” Barrett said, routing Roe to her fellow former Scalia law clerk.
“Why me?” Shanmugam proffered with a smile, drawing laughter from the crowd listening over lunch.
Thursday’s events were also notable because of Kavanaugh’s presence. Kavanaugh did not speak at the convention but attended a dinner at Union Station alongside more than 2,000 guests. A Federalist Society source told The National Law Journal that Kavanaugh will speak at next year’s conference.
In 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House counsel Don McGahn delivered remarks during the conference, and Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered an address over dinner at Union Station. Sessions and McGahn no longer work for the Trump administration and no Supreme Court justice spoke at this year’s events.
McGahn did talk with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this year about the judicial selection process as conference-goers dined, including Sessions and his replacement in acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker, new White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and four Supreme Court justices. The duo reminisced about their accomplishments together, while McConnell indicated he had more goals left on his checklist.
“My goal is to do everything we can, as long as we can, to transform the federal judiciary,” McConnell said.
Law Firm Moves, News and Notes
Wiley Rein elected six new partners from within its own ranks, who were previously associates and counsels.
Stephanie Bell, Edgar Class, Matthew Gardner, Ari Meltzer, Richard O’Keeffe Jr., and Karen Toto will become partners Jan. 1, 2019, and Usha Neelakantan will become of counsel. The new partners work across Wiley’s practices, including international trade; telecom, media & technology; white collar defense & government investigations; privacy & cybersecurity; government contracts; and insurance.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is creating a new betting and gaming practice group in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association that handed New Jersey a victory in its effort to legalize sports betting. The group will be led by three partners, Kevin Masuda in Los Angeles, Jonathan Earle in London, and Graham Winter in Hong Kong.
“Since our firm succeeded in persuading the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the federal limits on sports gambling in the U.S., we have seen activity in the sector take off,” said Ken Doran, Gibson Dunn chairman and managing partner, in a statement. “The new Betting and Gaming Practice Group will allow us to focus on the needs of our clients in a more coordinated, efficient, and effective manner.”
Sandra Grossman and Becki Young announced they merged their immigration practices to form Grossman Young & Hammond in suburban Washington, D.C.
The female-led firm maintains offices in the Maryland suburbs of Washington and has nine total attorneys and 22 total staffers.
Speaking of the suburbs, Amazon’s HQ2 is coming to a Northern Virginia city just outside of Washington, D.C. Some lobbyists have already begun angling for new work created by Amazon’s forthcoming expanded presence in Crystal City, especially as it makes a play for the Pentagon’s multibillion-dollar cloud-computing contract dubbed “JEDI Cloud.”