President Obama’s three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit appear to be in trouble, and they may need Democrats to employ the “nuclear option” to ever make it to the bench.
Senate Republicans on Oct. 31 blocked the nomination of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld partner Patricia Millett. Nobody questioned her qualifications to the key appeals court. Her nomination needed 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster threat; she got 55. Republicans, arguing the D.C. Circuit does not need any more judges, accused Obama of trying to stack the court. Both of those arguments apply equally to the other two nominees: Georgetown University Law Center professor Cornelia Pillard and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, a former Venable partner. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) suggested that the blocking of Millett could create enough pressure to change long-standing Senate rules — via the so-called “nuclear option” — to strip the ability of Repub­licans to filibuster nominations. “If the Republican caucus finds that despite her stellar legal reputation and commitment to her country that somehow a filibuster is warranted, I believe this body will need to consider anew whether a rules change should be in order,” Leahy said last week.
Obama, in May, successfully appointed one judge to the D.C. Cir­cuit — former O’Melveny & Myers partner Sri Srinivasan. — Todd Ruger
SUPREME COURT’S FEMALE FOURSOME
The National Portrait Gallery in Washington unveiled a portrait October 28 of the Supreme Court’s four female justices. Famed portraitist Nelson Shanks, whose previous subjects included Princess Diana and former President Bill Clinton, painted the life-sized work.
During a press conference, Shanks said it was “a bit of a challenge” to capture the robed justices’ “different personalities and visages.” Shanks described a four-hour sitting with all four justices last year as “semi-controlled chaos.” The central image is of Sandra Day O’Connor, the court’s first female member. She is seen seated on a blue damask sofa next to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman on the court. Newcomers Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan stand behind them. Shanks said the arrangement uses Old Master Dutch group portraiture style, a “diversion” from the straight-row lineup usually used to depict judges.
Social-media armchair critics gave the painting mixed reviews. One former law clerk noted that the relative sizes of O’Connor, who in real life is taller than Ginsburg, are “seriously out of whack” in the painting. Some thought Kagan looked too smug and Sotomayor too severe and distant.
Museum director Kim Sajet said the portrait, prominently displayed on the second floor, would be a “launching pad” for an educational program emphasizing the difference that women make in American life. She hopes it will “spark a conversation among young people, particularly young women, about breaking barriers.” — Tony Mauro
WILLIAMS & CONNOLLY SEEKS FEES IN DEFAMATION LAWSUIT
Williams & Connolly partner Kevin Baine has long been one of Washington’s top First Amendment and media lawyers. Throughout his almost 30 years at the venerable firm, Baine has represented news outlets that include The Washington Post, CNN and Time Magazine.
Baine recently was tapped to defend Foreign Policy magazine — at a rate of $850 per hour — in a defamation case in Washington federal district court. Baine’s fee and the hourly rates of two Williams & Connolly associates were disclosed in court papers in the case. The firm seeks about $95,000 in fees — an amount that includes a 10 percent discount on its hourly rates, and, on top of that, an additional 12 percent monthly discount. The associates, Adam Tarosky and Elise Baumgarten, billed at about $410 an hour and $342 per hour, respectively.
The boutique firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, which represented Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, seeks more than $105,000 for work in the case. Nathan Siegel and Seth Berlin, who normally charge $590 an hour, billed at $390, according to court records.
The suit, filed by Yasser Abbas, son of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, sought $20 million in damages from Schanzer, who wrote the article in question. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed the case in September. Abbas, represented by New York’s Melito & Adolfsen, is pursuing an appeal. — Matthew Huisman
LABOR BOARD GC CONFIRMED
The new top lawyer at the National Labor Relations Board should have a good idea of the legal issues the agency faces. He formerly was a board member. The Senate confirmed Richard Griffin as the general counsel for the NLRB on Oct. 29, just three months after lawmakers struck a deal that removed him from the board. The 55-44 confirmation vote reflected a broader political controversy over the labor board that’s boiled for more than a year. Republicans objected in 2012 when President Obama used his recess appointment authority to put Griffin on the five-member labor board. Republicans subsequently blocked Griffin and other NLRB nominees earlier this year until they reached an agreement with Senate Democrats to confirm a full slate of labor board nominees — sans Griffin. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a dispute over the constitutionality of Obama’s recess appointments to the labor board. — Todd Ruger
The U.S. Department of Justice is fighting to keep secret the names and docket numbers of six cases in which the prosecution used warrantless phone tracking data. Each of the cases, the government said in a brief filed Oct. 28 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, resulted in acquittals or the dismissal of charges. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are fighting for the information. The government’s lawyers, including John Koppel of the DOJ Civil Division, argue the release of the information could “reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion” of privacy. The government earlier in the litigation released docket information on 214 cases that featured warrantless phone tracking. — Mike Scarcella
When it comes to English muffins and other bread, the National Consumers League wants the wheat, the whole wheat, and nothing but the wheat — the truth about it, that is. In a lawsuit, the league accused Bimbo Bakeries USA, distributor of Thomas’ Light Multi-Grain Hearty English Muffins and Sara Lee Classic Honey Wheat bread, of fraudulently exaggerating the presence of certain grains and whole wheat in those products. Suing on behalf of D.C. consumers, the league accused Bimbo of deceiving bread lovers into thinking the products were healthier than they actually were. The league filed its image-laden complaint in late September in D.C. Superior Court; Bimbo moved the case to federal court on Oct. 28. The league is represented by Washington’s Rezvani Volin & Rotbert. Hogan Lovells and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius represent Bimbo. — Zoe Tillman
CHRIS BROWN’S LAWYER
You can count Schertler & Onorato’s Danny Onorato as a member of Team Breezy. After singer Chris Brown was arrested in Washington on Oct. 27 and charged with felony assault, the veteran criminal defense lawyer accompanied Brown when he appeared in D.C. Superior Court the following day.
Onorato, who declined to discuss the case, is no stranger to high-profile clients. A former ­federal prosecutor, Onorato’s clients have included executives of Enron Corp., KPMG LLP and Fannie Mae, according to his firm bio. More recently, he’s defending a former Blackwater guard charged with manslaughter in a 2007 shooting that left more than a dozen Iraqi civilians dead.
Brown, who faces a reduced charge of misdemeanor simple assault, was released until his next court appearance on Nov. 25. According to multiple reports, the singer checked into rehab after being released. — Zoe Tillman