JUSTICE GINSBURG ON WOMEN AND THE COURTS
Justice Ruth Bader O'Connor? A lawyer would be ill-advised to refer to a U.S. Supreme Court justice, or any judge for that matter, by the wrong name. But each time Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined courts in which only one other woman was serving at the time — the Supreme Court in 1993 and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1980 — that's exactly what happened.
"The idea of two was too much to contemplate," Ginsburg said of her early days on the D.C. Circuit, earning laughs as she shared her experiences during a discussion last week about women and the District of Columbia's federal courts. The event, which was so crowded some attendees had to sit on the floor, featured a panel of pioneering women from across the D.C. court system and private practice.
Ginsburg said that having multiple women on the Supreme Court today was "exhilarating."
"We are no longer one-at-a-time curiosities," she said. Whenever she was asked how many women justices would be enough, she said her response was, "When there are nine." — Zoe Tillman
UNANIMOUS VOTE, BUT THERE'S DISHARMONY
Senior Judge Harry Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit offered a few choice words last week in a Guantánamo Bay case to urge the White House and Congress to find a "different approach" to detainee cases.
Edwards agreed with his colleagues, judges Thomas Griffith and Karen LeCraft Henderson, that Abdul al Qader Ahmed Hussain should not be released from custody. But Edwards only reluctantly reached that conclusion, pinning his vote on "the vagaries of the law" gov­erning detainee proceedings. Hussain, represented by Wesley Powell of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, has been held for 11 years.
Edwards said the panel judges invoked what he called the "walks like a duck" test in finding that the evidence supported the U.S. Department of Justice's contention that Hussain was loyal to enemy forces. Edwards noted he had no authority to "stray away from precedent" but confessed that he was "disquieted by our jurisprudence."
Griffith wrote in response to Edwards' criticism: "The innocent wayfaring teenager our colleague invokes bears no resemblance to Hussain, who was not simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, doing the wrong things." — Mike Scarcella
The White House has thrust a group of lawyers into the spotlight to help deal with revelations about the scope of surveillance programs targeting telephone records and electronic communication. President Barack Obama in a June 17 interview with Charlie Rose mentioned the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board as a venue to grapple with the public's privacy concerns. The board had been dormant since 2007. In May, the Senate confirmed the board's chairman, David Medine, a former Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner. Other members include Elisebeth Collins Cook, a counsel to Wilmer; Rachel Brand, chief counsel for regulatory litigation for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Chamber Litigation Center; and retired Judge Patricia Wald, who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1979 to 1999. "I'll be meeting with them and what I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation, not only about these two programs but also about the general problem of these big data sets, because this is not going to be restricted to government entities," Obama said. The first meeting was held on June 21. — Todd Ruger
Maybe all those photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin riding a horse have sunk in. Last week, a Washington federal judge described the Russian government as acting like an "outlaw" or a "scofflaw" when it came to a legal dispute over the return of thousands of Jewish religious texts seized during the early 20th century.
Agudas Chasidei Chabad of the United States sued Russia in 2004 for the texts. U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth issued a judgment in Chabad's favor in 2010, and when Russia refused to comply, he levied civil contempt sanctions in January against the country at $50,000 per day.
During a June 20 hearing, the lead attorney for Chabad, Nathan Lewin of Lewin & Lewin, said that in the months since the sanctions order came down, the U.S. Department of State has engaged in diplomatic talks with Russian officials. Russia transferred several hundred books earlier this month to the Jewish Museum in Moscow, he said, but that wasn't enough. Appearing in court with senior Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis from all over the world, Lewin said they still hoped for an amicable resolution. — Zoe Tillman
FIRST AMENDMENT FIGHT
Google Inc.'s lawyers are taking First Amendment gripes to one of the country's most secret courts — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Last week, Perkins Coie privacy and security partner Albert Gidari in Seattle filed papers in the Washington-based court to challenge the gag order imposed on the company blocking the publication of information about the court's orders. Google already publishes a transparency report. But the company wants to tell users more about the requests the government makes for personal data. Gidari said Google's reputation has been harmed by "false or misleading" reports in the press about government surveillance. "Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities," Gidari wrote in court papers. The surveillance court could ask the Justice Department to respond, but the presiding judge, Reggie Walton, didn't immediately ask for the government's position. — Mike Scarcella
LUCKY NO. 100,000
When Robert MacKichan III, an associate at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, got a call alerting him that he was the D.C. Bar's 100,000th member, he thought it was some "funny way to welcome you." But it was no joke: MacKichan, who waived in to the D.C. Bar after passing the Virginia exam, was indeed the 100,000th member, and was recognized during the bar's annual awards dinner on June 18. No balloons dropped from the ceiling, but it was still "a special way to start out in the bar," MacKichan said. Outgoing bar president Thomas Williamson Jr. of Covington & Burling noted that in the bar's first year in 1972 it had just more than 15,000 members and so had "come a long way." The dinner marked solo practitioner Andrea Ferster's swearing in as bar president. — Zoe Tillman
HIGH COURT LOBBY
Lawyers for former lobbyist Kevin Ring, who got caught up in the Jack Abramoff scandal, on June 17 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case that could end up putting Ring behind bars for 20 months. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in January upheld Ring's conviction and sentence in a corruption case. Now, Ring's lawyers at Miller & Chevalier, including white-collar defense partners Timothy O'Toole and Andrew Wise , want the high court to take a look. One question posed to the court: Can an honest-services fraud conviction stand without proof of a quid pro quo bribery agreement? The appellate court said no such proof is required. O'Toole said in the high court petition that the D.C. Circuit "permitted the expansion of honest-services-fraud" beyond what's permissible. — Mike Scarcella