U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins sailed through his judicial confirmation process in 2010. Almost three years later, he'll be back testifying on Capitol Hill this week as a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
It's safe to say that many things will be different for Wilkins this time. And it doesn't take a degree in chemical engineering — Wilkins has one — to know things will be a lot more volatile. In 2010, when Wilkins was a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the then-Venable partner received questions only about judicial activism and equal access to justice.
The confirmation hearings for the other two pending D.C. Circuit nominees — Patricia Millett and Cornelia Pillard — turned into a platform for senators to opine about the heated politics of Obama's push to fill the D.C. Circuit. For Wilkins, the dispute during his hearing will likely be less about his qualifications and more about the politics of judicial nominations.
Still, Wilkins has presided over several controversial cases, including his service on a three-judge panel that refused to allow Texas to implement its voter-identification law. He also sat on a panel that rejected the Republican National Committee's challenge to aggregate campaign contribution limits.
Wilkins was confirmed to the trial court without opposition or debate. There's almost no chance for that this time around. Republicans appear poised to delay or block Obama's D.C. Circuit nominations. — Todd Ruger
DOJ'S COLE TO CLEAR THE AIR OVER MARIJUANA
Deputy Attorney General James Cole will take the lead role when it comes to explaining the U.S. Justice Department position on state-based marijuana legalization initiatives. Cole is scheduled to testify September 10 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee chairman, had invited both Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and Cole to discuss the conflict between state and federal pot laws. Cole wrote a key memo last month detailing why federal drug enforcers will not move to block laws in Colorado and Washington state as long as the two ­implement strong regulatory regimes. Also scheduled to testify during the hearing: Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and John Urquhart, sheriff of King County, Wash. Justice Department press officials did not respond to questions about why Cole is taking the lead on the issue. For months, Holder had been the official answering questions about marijuana laws during oversight hearings before the House and Senate. — Todd Ruger
DEATH OF A 'WORD NUT'
Henry Putzel Jr., a onetime civil rights lawyer who became the U.S. Supreme Court's reporter of decisions from 1964 to 1979, died in New Hampshire on September 2 at age 99. The reporter of decisions edits court opinions and prepares them for publication. Putzel was a joyful wordsmith who occasionally debated with justices over usage and grammar — but would in the end defer to the justices' preferences. Putzel discouraged the use of "mod words," as he put it, but did not always succeed. He once tried to school the justices on the proper use of "that" and "which" but said he "threw in the sponge" after realizing most justices continued their old ways. The job also entails writing a syllabus for each opinion — a summary for the benefit of the press and the public. Under Putzel, a syllabus was, for the first time, published at the same time as the actual opinion. He once said anyone filling the job had to be a lawyer and a "word nut," as well as a "double revolving peripatetic nitpicker."— Tony Mauro
In June 2012, the prize-winning writer William Vollmann sued the FBI in Washington federal district court to obtain all the records agents had collected about him. Vollmann, represented by David Sobel, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, would end up getting hundreds of pages — documents from which he would learn something about himself. Or, perhaps more appropriately, he would learn what federal agents thought about him. In the September issue of Harper's magazine, Vollmann wrote a piece titled: "Life As a Terrorist: Uncovering my FBI file." The FBI once considered Vollmann a suspect in the Unabomber investigation. "Reading one's FBI file is rarely pleasant," Vollmann wrote. Vollmann also wrote: "So far as I can tell, I was not the hottest suspect they ever had." Vollmann hasn't seen everything the FBI has on him. Last week, Rhonda Fields, an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, told Sobel, in a status update, that a batch of records "continue to be unavailable at this time as they are located on a freezer truck pending remediation." Some files, Sobel said, were damaged by flood water. An official at the FBI said in a letter to Sobel that the agency is unable, now, to determine when those records would be available for review. — Mike Scarcella
WHO'S YOUR FATHER?
A Washington lawyer who claims to be basketball star LeBron James' father lost his latest attempt to make his case in court. Leicester Stovell, a solo practitioner and member of the D.C. Bar since 2004, unsuccessfully sued the basketball player in 2010 for defamation over comments James made about growing up not knowing his father. Earlier this year, Stovell filed another lawsuit, this time accusing James of defamation over comments James made in a 2012 magazine interview. On September 1, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted James' motion to dismiss the case, finding Stovell failed to file his complaint within the one-year window for defamation claims. The 2012 article at issue came out on April 25, 2012, but Stovell's lawsuit was filed on April 29 of this year. Stovell, who represented himself in the case, said he was weighing an appeal. James has been represented by Squire Sanders, including partner John Burlingame, managing partner of the firm's D.C. and Northern Virginia offices, and Frederick Nance, a regional managing partner operating out of the firm's Cleveland office. — Zoe Tillman
SUIT: DOJ DISCRIMINATED
A longtime U.S. Department of Justice lawyer can move ahead with his discrimination lawsuit against the department, a federal judge ruled last week. Joshua Nesbitt, a lawyer with the Justice Department since 1992, claimed he was passed over for a promotion because of his race — Nesbitt is black, and the lawyer who got the job is white. Nesbitt claimed the white candidate wasn't required to follow the same application procedure as Nesbitt and that hiring decisions were made based on criteria not listed in the job announcement (but that Nesbitt says he would have fulfilled). On September 5, U.S. District Senior Judge Royce Lamberth said that, although the Justice Department gave nondiscriminatory explanations for why Nesbitt wasn't hired, Nesbitt alleged enough inconsistencies in the hiring process to survive a motion for summary judgment. Nesbitt is representing himself. He could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment. — Zoe Tillman
BOOZ ALLEN'S NEW GC
Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. will have a new top lawyer as the company continues to try to move beyond the attention brought by former employee Edward Snowden. AECOM Technology Corp. top attorney Nancy Laben will start as Booz Allen's executive vice president and general counsel on September 30. Laben replaces Robert Osborne, who is retiring after three years at Booz Allen. Following Snowden's disclosures this summer about the National Security Agency's extensive data-gathering operations, U.S. authorities launched an investigation into the former Booz Allen employee. Snowden, who worked for Booz Allen at an NSA facility in Hawaii, now is wanted on espionage charges in the United States. He is living in Russia, which granted him temporary asylum. Booz Allen on June 10 fired Snowden for violating the company's code of ethics and policies after working there for less than three months. Laben had served as AECOM's general counsel since 2010. She previously was deputy general counsel at Accenture PLC and was a counsel at International Business Machines Corp. Laben wasn't immediately reached for comment. — Andrew Ramonas
STILL A SECRET
It's a safe bet that a fair number of people on Capitol Hill and at the U.S. Justice Department — not to mention the White House, State Department and other agencies — have seen a lengthy report documenting the CIA's detention and interrogation program. The report, however, which a Senate committee approved in late 2012, hasn't been made public. Last week, an investigative reporter, represented by Washington solo practitioner Jeffrey Light, sued the government in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under the Freedom of Information Act to try to get DOJ's copy of the 300-page executive summary of the report. Light said in his complaint that "there have been numerous public statements" from senators and administration officials calling for the declassification of the report. — Mike Scarcella