JUSTICES TALK ABOUT BUDGET, CAMERAS IN COURT

U.S. Supreme Court justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer told a House Appropriations subcommittee on March 14 that the Supreme Court can handle sequestration budget cuts "for a few months," but warned that lower federal courts will be hit more severely. Public defender services may suffer first, Kennedy said. "This is serious business."

The dialogue ranged well beyond the court’s annual budget request. Both indicated the high court has not budged in its opposition to camera access. "We are a teaching institution," Kennedy said. "We teach by not having television." Breyer also voiced concern that justices might pull their punches at oral argument if cameras are there.

Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) was incredulous that cameras would affect justices’ behavior. "There is beauty to the system," he said, "and I would like my kids to watch it."

When Puerto Rico-born Representative Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) asked whether a Puerto Rican can constitutionally become president, Breyer suggested he could not see why not. Serrano exulted, "You’ve just made the front pages on the island!" Breyer immediately backtracked. — Tony Mauro

MUCH IS STILL SECRET IN BLACKWATER CASE

In the manslaughter prosecution in Washington of a group of former Blackwater private security guards, there is much that’s been kept secret — from court hearings to court files themselves. Defense lawyers in the case successfully convinced a judge that the government unfairly built the controversial case on protected statements the guards made to investigators following a shooting in Iraq in 2007. But an appeals court revived the case, and now the action is proceeding again back in the trial court.

Last week, defense lawyer Steven McCool of Mallon & McCool publicly filed a 12-page letter urging the assistant U.S. attorneys in the case — including Anthony As uncion, John Han and T. Patrick Martin — not to bring a second indictment against his client. McCool presented the exculpatory evidence "that you are obligated to present to the grand jury."

Yet soon after the letter was posted on the court’s website, it vanished. McCool said in a follow-up court filing that "at the request of the United States," the letter will be filed under seal. The letter, McCool said, didn’t include any of the guards’ statements, only evidence presented to the new trial team handling the case. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has set a status conference for April 4. — Mike Scarcella

K&L GATES GOES AFTER ASTEROIDS

A Seattle-based company has secured a new booster in its efforts to make asteroid mining a reality: K&L Gates. The law firm’s D.C. office notified Congress March 8 that it is lobbying for Planetary Resources Inc. on issues related to quarrying the celestial bodies, but not on any particular legislation. Former Representative Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), a K&L Gates partner, is handling the account with firm partners Daniel Ritter and R. Paul Stimers, as well as associate Stephen Roberts. Gordon, a former chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space, and Technology Committee, said he and his colleagues are "monitoring" NASA’s asteroid-related activities and looking for an opportunity to form a partnership between the U.S. government and Planetary Resources. "This is not some Buck Rogers story," he said. Planetary Resources says on its website that "more than 1,500 [asteroids] are as easy to reach as the Moon." The company, which counts Google Inc. chief executive officer Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt among its investors, plans to create robotic spacecraft that will explore the celestial bodies, allowing it to develop equipment to extract their resources. — Andrew Ramonas

FAST START

In Edith Ramirez‘s first two weeks on the job as head of the Federal Trade Commission, one thing is already clear: she’s not afraid to litigate. Little wonder­ — as a former partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Ramirez has more experience as a litigator than any FTC chair in recent memory. And it shows. Last week, FTC lawyers sued to undo the already consummated merger of an Idaho hospital and a physician’s group. According to the FTC, the deal gives the combined entity the power to demand higher rates for health care services. The deal, which closed at the end of 2012, did not require premerger review because it fell below the Hart-Scott-Rodino threshold of $70.1 million. The suit comes on the heels of eight consumer-protection complaints filed in courts around the country in early March. The FTC in those cases charged 29 defendants with collectively sending more than 180 million unwanted text messages to consumers. — Jenna Greene

MOTOR CITY

The Motor City, ailing in recent years from fiscal woes, is about to get a dose of Big Law medicine. Last week, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced that he was tapping Washington-based attorney and Jones Day partner Kevyn Orr to be Detroit’s emergency manager. Declaring an emergency for Detroit was a controversial move, but Snyder said at the time that he thought Orr had the experience needed to turn around the city’s finances. Advising financially flailing businesses has long been Orr’s area of expertise. Notably, he represented Chrysler Group LLC in its bankruptcy proceedings. He’ll officially start his new job in Detroit on March 25; as of press time, it wasn’t clear what the move would mean for his work at the firm. Orr didn’t return a request for comment. In a statement released shortly after Snyder’s announcement, Orr said that he was "deeply saddened to see a historic city such as Detroit in severe financial distress, but I am confident we can and will put the city back on the path to success." — Zoe Tillman

OPEN SEASON

Dead deer walking. U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins gave the green light last week to the National Park Service’s plan to kill deer in Washington’s Rock Creek Park, part of an effort to curb the park’s exploding deer population. Several local residents and an animal rights group challenged the plan in court, expressing fears that it would turn the park "into a killing field." But Wilkins found that the National Park Service had clearly demonstrated that the deer were hurting the park. "Nature is dynamic and ever-changing," Wilkins wrote. When Congress created Rock Creek Park, Wilkins said, they couldn’t have imagined that the deer population would ever exceed what scientists would later deem a healthy limit for the park. Now that it’s happened, the judge wrote, the National Park Service, and not the court, has been entrusted with deciding how to proceed. An attorney for the plaintiffs, Jessica Almy of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, said they’re weighing whether to appeal. — Zoe Tillman

AT LAST

The slow and grinding wheels of the federal judicial confirmation process continued to speed up with the U.S. Senate confirming Washington lawyer Richard Taranto to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit last week. The nomination of Taranto, a name partner at the D.C. firm Farr & Taranto, never faced much opposition but got caught up in election-year politics. On March 11, the Senate voted, 91-0, for the specialist in patent law who has argued 19 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. His confirmation comes more than 17 months after he was first nominated and a year after his confirmation hearing. Taranto declined a request for an interview. He’ll fill one of three vacancies on the Federal Circuit; President Barack Obama announced nominees for the two remaining seats in February. — Todd Ruger and Zoe Tillman