When the country's already waited seven years to have a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, what's another five hours?
That's how long the Senate waited on July 31 for Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who had been ill, to fly in from North Dakota to participate in a vote on the nomination of Minnesota U.S. attorney B. Todd Jones to lead the ATF.
It was a dramatic ending to a nomination process already filled with drama. Republicans questioned Jones' management abilities and history with whistleblowers. Democrats said Republicans were trying to prevent the agency from completing its work.
Democrats had to threaten historic changes to the Senate's filibuster rules just to get Republicans to agree to allow confirmation votes for Jones and other stalled executive nominations.
Even after that, Democrats needed 60 votes to overcome a Republican block on Jones' confirmation as the first permanent director of the agency since 2006. But after voting started, they only had 58 votes, according to a minute-by-minute story on the voting in Politico.
Democrats had to first convince Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), to switch her vote from no to yes. Then they had to wait for Heitkamp to catch a connecting flight from Minneapolis, The Hill newspaper reported.
Heitkamp finally arrived, and cast the last vote needed to end debate and move to a vote. The Senate then immediately voted, 53-42, to confirm Jones. — Todd Ruger
WHEN JUDGE RICHARD LEON WRITES, TAKE NOTE!
In a recent decision, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon found a way to translate his at-times fiery bench persona onto paper: exclamation points! In the July 31 opinion, Leon struck down federal regulations on debit-card transaction fees, ruling that the Federal Reserve adopted rules that "inappropriately" inflated fees by billions of dollars. The 58-page opinion featured six exclamation points. Responding to the Fed's reasoning for how it developed the transaction fee standard, Leon wrote: "Please!" After summarizing his position on what information the Fed could consider in setting the fee standard, he added, "That's it!" The Fed's rule, Leon said, "not only fails to carry out Congress's intention; it effectively countermands it!" Exclamation points are a rare sight in the generally staid arena of court opinions, but they're not unheard of. In a March 2012 opinion blocking imports of a drug used in lethal injections, Leon called the government's actions "utterly disappointing!"
Leon's take on his writing style? "No comment!" — Zoe Tillman
Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Al Franken of Minnesota are listening to the tech industry's pleas to make the government's data-gathering efforts more transparent following leaks in June about the National Security Agency's collection of phone and email information. Appearing last week during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on U.S. surveillance, Feinstein and Franken said they were working on bills that would help address privacy concerns. The tech industry started pushing for greater transparency after The Washington Post and Britain's The Guardian published stories detailing the government's far-reaching access to user information held by Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Yahoo! Inc. and other companies. Congress can act to bring greater openness to the government's surveillance efforts, Feinstein said. "I think, based on what I know, [terrorists] will come after us, and I think we need to prevent an attack, wherever we can, from happening," Feinstein said. "That doesn't mean we can't make some changes." — Andrew Ramonas
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld partner Patricia Millett stepped out of the political frying pan and into the fire last week over her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Republicans for weeks had expressed their opposition to filling any more vacancies on the D.C. Circuit. The Senate Judiciary Committee August 1 vote on Millett's nomination was the first test of how strongly Republicans would oppose President Barack Obama's three D.C. Circuit nominees. The 10-8 vote followed party lines, with every Republican senator on the committee voting against Millett. Several Republicans again underscored that their votes had nothing to do with her qualifications. Millett, for instance, has argued 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. "I have no objection to her, personally," Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said. "I don't know enough about her but I think she's probably well-qualified." Millett's nomination now awaits a vote by the full Senate, with the Republicans apparently poised to block it. It sets up a showdown that could once again lead Democrats to threaten an historic change to the Senate's filibuster rules to force a confirmation vote for Millett. For the D.C. Circuit, Obama has also nominated U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins and Georgetown University Law Center professor Cornelia Pillard. — Todd Ruger
FULL BOARD AHEAD
The U.S. Senate confirmed a slate of National Labor Relations Board nominations last week, ­giving the agency a full five-member panel for the first time in a decade. The July 30 vote cleared some of the legal uncertainty hanging over the board since President Barack Obama's controversial NLRB recess appointments in 2012. The new members: Kent Hirozawa, who was the NLRB general counsel; Nancy Schiffer, a former AFL-CIO associate general counsel; Mark Pearce, a lawyer from Buffalo, N.Y., who has served as NLRB chairman since 2011; Harry Johnson III, a partner in the labor and employment practice at Arent Fox in Los Angeles; and Philip Miscimarra, a partner in the labor and employment practice at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Chicago. The U.S. Supreme Court in June announced it would hear a dispute over the constitutionality of Obama's recess appointments to the labor board. That case could determine the scope of presidential power. — Todd Ruger
BOARD BUSTS EX-PROSECUTOR
An attorney ethics board in Washington has recommended a 30-day suspension against a former federal prosecutor for failure to disclose certain evidence in a shooting case more than a decade ago. The D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility said that Andrew Kline, a former assistant U.S. attorney, committed an "egregious" violation when he did not tell a defense lawyer about a victim statement that cast doubt on the identity of the shooter. "Prosecutors should be held accountable in light of their pivotal role in the justice system," board member Robert Watkins wrote on July 31. "They are given great discretion, and there are few tools available to oversee their compliance with the legal standards that govern their conduct." Kline and his lawyer, Venable partner Seth Rosenthal, have denied wrongdoing. (Rosenthal declined to comment.) Kline said the failure to disclose was inadvertent. The Justice Department backed Kline in the dispute, rare in the annals of attorney discipline. The D.C. Court of Appeals will have the final say on any discipline. Kline, a member of the D.C. bar since 1994, has no previous disciplinary history. — Mike Scarcella
A fired federal air marshal insisted he couldn't have disclosed sensitive security information online because he'd made up the statements. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected that argument last week, upholding the Transportation Security Agency's determination that Jose Lacson disclosed sensitive information about personnel and attrition rates. "Like many people, Jose Lacson posted things online that he should not have," Chief Judge Merrick Garland wrote. "The problem is that, unlike most people, Lacson was a Federal Air Marshal. And the things he posted did not concern relationships gone awry or parties that he should have avoided." Justice Department lawyer Edward Himmelfarb represented the TSA in the appeals court. The government argued that a false statement could contain sensitive security information if the disclosure revealed "a concept or general state of affairs that should be protected in the interest of transportation security." — Mike Scarcella
D.C. Bar Foundation Executive Director Katia Garrett has announced she's stepping down at the end of this year. Garrett, who was hired as the foundation's second executive director in 2005 and works part-time, said the organization had grown to the point that it needs a full-time leader. She said she wasn't sure what she'd be doing next, except that she would remain in Washington and work on social justice issues. Under Garrett's tenure, the foundation increased its annual grant awards to local civil legal services groups from $1 million to as much as $4 million and created a loan repayment assistance program for legal services lawyers. The foundation recently launched a search for Garrett's successor. — Zoe Tillman