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Monday, July 7, 2008

Greetings from Pudunk to Justice Scalia

Speaking of the U.S. Supreme Court, I happened to catch a repeat of an interview with Justice Antonin Scalia discussing some of his thoughts while plugging his new book. At one point he was talking about the quality of the lawyers who come before the high court. He said there was generally a higher quality to the bar of the D.C. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (where he sat before joining the high court) because of the specialized nature of that bar. At the U.S. Supreme Court, on the other hand, you get trial lawyers and others not used to arguing appeals, many making their first (and most likley only) Supreme Court appearance.

While some are just awful, others are surprisingly good, Scalia said. As an example of the former, the justice cited a lawyer from a big, white-shoe Wall Street firm who spends his time bumbling through his notes. As an example of the latter, he said that a young public defender "from Podunk" will occasionally come before the court and make a brilliant and flawless argument. Scalia says what goes through his mind in the second instance is that her talents could be better utilized. (I am not so sure the Podunk poor would agree. ...). Explaining further, he expressed a belief that the legal system siphons off too much of the talent, and that their skills could be better utilized doing things like inventing things and building companies. A fascinating comment, particularly since he answered that he could not have envisioned using his own talents in any other way than as a lawyer or judge.

A noteworthy aside: Scalia strongly emphasized that lawyers appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court should wear a conservative dark suit -- dark blue, gray or black. "Not brown," not even "dark brown," he said with finality. I couldn't help getting a chuckle out of this knowing that Scalia owes his place on the high court to President Ronald Reagan, a man whose personal style statement was the reintroduction of the brown suit to the White House.

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