ALL OF A SUDDEN, JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR GOES CAMERA-SHY
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is making news as well as selling books during her media tour to publicize the release of her memoir, My Beloved World. In several interviews, she has made it clear she is no longer a fan of allowing cameras in the Supreme Court.
During her confirmation hearing in 2009, she embraced camera access, and predicted that as a "really good litigator" she could persuade her new colleagues to give it a try.
It looks like the persuasion went in the other direction. Televising oral arguments "could be more misleading than helpful" to viewers, she told Charlie Rose on PBS earlier this month, adding that "very few of them understand what our process is."
Like her predecessors, Sotomayor has "gone native," said University of Virginia political scientist Barbara Perry. "They take on the institution’s norms. They want to fit in." Paired with a similar conversion by Justice Elena Kagan, Sotomayor’s switch is bleak news for advocates of televising Supreme Court proceedings. "We agree that the Supreme Court is different, but it isn’t so different that its public acts should be kept from the public it serves," said C-SPAN vice president Bruce Collins. — Tony Mauro
A NEW LEADER FOR JUDICIAL CONFERENCE
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has tapped Judge William Traxler Jr. to chair the executive committee of the Judicial Conference, the policy-setting body of the federal judiciary. It’ll be a key position as the third branch braces for more budget cuts.
Roberts cites "Bill Traxler’s skilled leadership, commitment to cost containment and prudent management." Since 2009, Traxler has been chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. President George H.W. Bush named him to the district court in South Carolina in 1993, and Bill Clinton elevated him to the Fourth Circuit in 1998.
"He’s highly regarded, very understated, and even funny," said University of Richmond School of Law professor Carl Tobias. "He will play well with members of Congress."
Traxler is the fourth executive committee chair Roberts has appointed since becoming chief justice in 2005. All have been white males.  — Tony Mauro
FROM ALASKA WITH LOVE
On its face, a senator from Alaska might not appear to have much in common with the residents of Washington. Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska), the new chairman of the subcommittee on emergency management, intergovernmental affairs and the District of Columbia, begs to differ. As the former mayor of Anchorage, Begich "has a soft spot for local government" and has been the Senate’s "go-to guy" for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, according to his office. Begich will, among other things, serve as the first line of Senate vetting for D.C. court nominees. The nominations of three attorneys tapped for the District of Columbia Superior Court expired at the end of 2012, so Begich could soon be put to the test if President Obama decides to renominate them. His office said he’ll move quickly on nominees to make sure the local court system "is not blocked by congressional action." Begich is the second D.C. subcommittee chairman in a row to hail from a state far, far from Washington — his predecessor was former Senator Daniel Akaka, a Democrat from Hawaii. Begich will be joined in the subcommittee leadership by ranking member Rand Paul (R-Ky.). — Zoe Tillman
FRIENDS OF AL JAZEERA
Less than two months after Al Jazeera purchased former Vice President Al Gore’s progressive cable network Current TV, the news channel picked up DLA Piper to broadcast its story in Washington. The firm is advocating for Al Jazeera America Holdings I Inc. on "[i]nformational communications regarding client’s cable television channel," according to lobbying registration paperwork filed with Congress. DLA Piper partners Ignacio Sanchez, John Merrigan, Matthew Bernstein and Mark Paoletta are handling the account. None of the lobbyists responded to requests for comment. Gore and Joel Hyatt, who co-founded Current TV with the former vice president, announced the sale on January 3. Current TV, which will become Al Jazeera America this year, has struggled in the ratings since it went on the air in 2005. But the cable network says it reaches 60 million U.S. homes. Al Jazeera, which is owned by the Qatari government, is seen in more than 260 million households in 130 countries, according to the news channel. But it only reaches 4.7 million households in the United States. — Andrew Ramonas
END OF AN ERA
Steuart Pittman, the Pittman in Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, died on February 11 at 93. He was remembered as a soft-spoken and highly respected attorney. In 1954, Pittman founded Shaw Pittman, which would merge in 2005 with San Francisco’s Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro. Pillsbury partner Stephen Huttler first met Pittman in 1974 during his interview to become an associate at the firm. (Huttler would climb to the rank of managing partner, a role he held at the time of the merger in 2005.) He described Pittman as an avid squash player who frequented the courts in the firm’s basement. Pittman, Huttler said, worked to build loyalty among attorneys, clients and staff. "If you treated your clients and your people with integrity and long-term support and true loyalty, they would be equally loyal to the firm," Huttler said. "That has his approach and his style." — Matthew Huisman
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) joined the Senate Judiciary Committee when he was first elected in 1976. He has never left, making him the longest-serving Republican ever to serve on the committee. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) took time during a February 14 committee business meeting to honor Hatch’s 36 years on the panel, presenting him with a commemorative gavel and a plaque that reads, "Orrin Hatch, Senate Judiciary Committee’s Longest Serving Republican Member." Hatch is a former Judiciary chairman and ranking member. "Frankly, it’s a contentious committee but it’s a wonderful committee," Hatch said. "I have to admit I resent having all this gray hair that this committee has brought on me, but in many respects it’s been worth it." Leahy, who has served on the committee 1979, reminisced a little. "I’ve listened to his music. I’ve listened to his speeches. And I liked the music," Leahy said. After a pause he added, "Often the speeches." — Todd Ruger
SECOND SERVING AT NLRB
With fate of the National Labor Relations Board in legal limbo, President Obama last week re-nominated two board members who are serving under recess appointments, Democrats Sharon Block and Richard Griffin Jr. Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that their appointments (as well that of a third member, Republican Terrence Flynn , who quit in July) were unconstitutional. Block and Griffin face an uphill fight for confirmation. Forty senators sent a letter asking the pair to resign immediately, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) in a statement said that "the president should promptly send two Republican nominees, respecting the tradition of a bipartisan NLRB." Block is a former official at the Department of Labor, and Griffin was previously general counsel of the International Union of Operating Engineers. — Jenna Greene