Barack Obama and Justice Stevens: Common Ground

Here’s an article that was published this week in the Tribune about Justice John Paul Stevens.

That’s the concept. Hello Larry and Justice Stevens, side by side. Hello Internet phenomenon.



by James Oliphant

Washington Bureau

As South Siders go, they could scarcely be more different.

One born and bred in the city of Chicago, whose roots reach so deep that he attended the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field, and his family once owned the downtown hotel now known as the Hilton and Towers. The other a relative transplant, a product of Kenya and Kansas, Indonesia and Hawaii, who has become the city’s adopted son.

But it’s entirely possible that Justice John Paul Stevens‘ future could be linked to that of Sen. Barack Obama. If Obama wins the presidency next month, the 88-year-old Stevens, who has served on the Supreme Court for more than 30 years, could finally retire and allow Obama to choose his successor.

If that should occur, Stevens’ long tenure on the high court would be book-ended by two transformative moments in American history. He was named to the court following the Watergate scandal that forced Richard Nixon from office. And he would leave after the election of the first African-American president.

His departure would also offer Obama the opportunity to slow, if not reverse, the court’s conservative drift by replacing an aging member of the court’s liberal wing with a fresh face poised to do battle with such justices as John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

PLUS: Five significant decisions by Justice John Paul Stevens

Read the rest at

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What can we do to make this sitcom a little different?

I’ve read where Hello Larry has been described as an Internet “phenomenon.” One of the things the net has done has really cheapened that word.

Anyway, I am old enough to remember this show and it was no phenomenon. It was, instead, McLean Stevenson’s second attempt to prove to the world that he made the right decision leaving M*A*S*H, an endeavor that was doomed to failure. So doomed that not even the presence of the adorable Kim Richards could save it.

Two things about Kim Richards.

1) They are re-making Escape to Witch Mountain. 

2) She is, shockingly, Paris Hilton’s aunt.

Anyway, watch the Season 2 open for Hello Larry. After an undistinguished first season, the show’s producers were obviously scratching their heads wondering how to make give their standard-issue sitcom some buzz. If you make it to the end of the clip, I think you’ll agree that they succeeded. They also ensured there would be no third season.

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Pressing the RESET button

Hell, if John McCain can do it a couple of dozen times, why can’t I?

We’re going to give this thing another shot. We’ve had our forensic folks pore over the bare bones of the first incarnation of this blog and they’ve given us a fairly damning report of why it has failed to rock Technorati and otherwise bring the Internet to its virtual knees. 

For one thing, I sort of, along the way, well, stopped doing it, which pretty much alienated the seven people who had bookmarked it in the first place.

For another, you know, there are a zillion legal blogs. There’s a zillion blogs of every kind. For instance handmade artificial flowers. And that is not a band name. Although it’s not bad.

The other point is that I think I have come to terms that I ain’t Linda Greenhouse. And if you know what I mean, then you know what I mean. Which is not to say I don’t love and appreciate the law. I do. I’ve been around it my whole life. I’ve spent most of my career either practicing it or writing about it. I’ve just never been particularly good at sounding like I’m walking down the side of a mountain with a tablet in my hand. 

For example, I doubt very much Linda Greenhouse would post the theme song to Hello Larry. Which I’m going to do in about two minutes.

So the idea is to relax, to post things that interest me. That’s what blogs are right, about a community of the self-interested, people hoping to find common ground. That’s the hope.

At any rate, the traffic can only go up.

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Leahy responds to Bush speech on judges


Here is a response from the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to President Bush’s speech today on judges. 

The balance on our nation’s federal courts is precarious, with seven out of the nine Supreme Court Justices and 60 percent of all Federal judges appointed by Republican Presidents.  The impact of President Bush’s appointments is being harshly felt by ordinary Americans who are being denied their day in court and denied the protection that federal and state laws designed to help them were intended to provide. We cannot afford more of the same if Americans’ rights and liberties are to be preserved. Just as the Bush administration placed partisan politics ahead of sound law enforcement at the Department of Justice, it has elevated its partisan political agenda over the rule of law in its appointments to our federal courts.

 During the Bush-Cheney administration, the Supreme Court has been siding with big corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, injured Americans and investors.  Recent decisions by the Supreme Court, like Ledbetter, Exxon, and Riegel have left countless Americans without redress for corporate misconduct.  Justices Scalia and Thomas, along with the Bush appointees, have been on the wrong side of these decisions.  Their shielding of big business from accountability has contributed to the corruption and greed that is requiring massive taxpayer investments to shore up the shaky credit markets and financial institutions. Continue reading

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Bush on ‘the power of judges’

Here, on the First Monday in October, is the text of a speech delivered today by President George W. Bush at a Federalist Society event in Cincinnati:


I am pleased to address supporters of the Ashbrook Center, which has become a premier institution for American civics and history. 

My subject today is of paramount importance to our entire Nation: the proper role of federal judges.  Few issues are more hotly debated or have a more lasting impact on our country.  Today I will share my views on the proper role of the courts, the kind of judges I have nominated, and the urgent need to reform the way we treat judicial nominees in the United States Senate. 

Before Oliver Wendell Holmes took his seat on the Supreme Court, he met a supporter who wished him well in his new duties.  The supporter expressed satisfaction that Holmes would be going to Washington to administer justice.  Holmes replied: “Don’t be too sure. I am going there to administer the law.”  Holmes was trying to make clear what he believed was the proper role of judges:  to apply the laws as written, and not to advance their own agendas.  He knew that it was up to elected officials, and not appointed judges, to represent the popular will. 

Our Founders gave the judicial branch enormous power.  It is the only branch of government whose officers are unelected.  That means judges on the federal bench must exercise their power prudently … cautiously … you might even say, conservatively.  And that means that the selection and confirmation of good judges should be a high priority for every American.

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Chinese Muslim languishes in Gitmo legal limbo

Note: This is an article than ran in the Sept. 29 edition of the Chicago Tribune.

WASHINGTON — The United States held him for seven years and then, ultimately, decided that he poses no threat to national security. But he’s still sitting in prison at Guantanamo Bay because no other country will take him. Nor will the U.S. let him come here to live, even temporarily. 

In the Kafkaesque world of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, being eligible for freedom doesn’t make you free. 

He is Huzaifa Parhat, who now promises to be the next test case in detainee rights in the war on terror. Parhat is a Uighur, a Muslim from western China, picked up in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks on suspicion of having ties to the Taliban. Some Uighurs (pronounced WE-goors) are part of a movement that seeks separation from China to form their own Islamic nation.

The Chinese government considers Uighurs a threat to the country’s security and is accused of widespread human-rights abuses in their home province of Xinjiang. The U.S. State Department will not return Uighur detainees at Guantanamo to China because of fears that they will be imprisoned or tortured. 

But the U.S., too, has recently branded Uighur separatists as terrorists, even though a decade ago they were cheered by conservatives such as the late Sen. Jesse Helms for opposing the Chinese government. 

Parhat scored a major victory in June when he became the first Guantanamo detainee to have his detention ruled invalid by a U.S. federal appeals court. Since then, his lawyers have been trying to free him from the naval prison, but the Bush administration has resisted, arguing, in essence, that even though there is no longer any basis to hold him as an enemy of the state, it still has the power to decide how, where, and when to let him go. 

Now his lawyers are pressing for a court to order an extraordinary remedy. They want Parhat to come to the U.S. to testify that he poses no threat. And after that, they want him released in the U.S. to live until another home can be found for him. 

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A Newman classic: ‘The Verdict’

In honor of the life and career of Paul Newman, one of my favorite actors, here is a piece I wrote eight years ago:

Ordinary noises, human sounds dominate The Verdict (20th Century Fox, 1982), the greatest courtroom drama ever filmed. Whether they are the bells of a pinball machine, the hiss and hum of a hospital respirator, or the clink of ice cubes in a whiskey glass, they serve a far more important function here than mere aural landscaping.

Director Sidney Lumet drapes his film in a shroud of stillness of grief, of regret. It’s dark. It’s Boston. It’s winter. There is no soundtrack in the movie to speak of — and extended sequences where no one talks. So that when we hear something as benign as the bumper of a pinball machine as the movie opens, we welcome the comfort it provides.

Otherwise, we are passing through a grim universe, an unyielding moral vacuum. The movie’s protagonist, lawyer Frank Galvin, as captured by Paul Newman, is a shabby, self-hating drunk, taken to chasing coffins in funeral homes. Few Hollywood glamour gods have ever allowed themselves to be portrayed here as Newman has — and he was wrongly denied an Oscar for his performance. An early shot, with his hand shaking so violently that he must drink whiskey by bending his head and sipping it, is part of an initial tragic suite of scenes: Galvin getting tossed from a funeral home, Galvin holding court at the corner bar, Galvin trashing his law office. They establish the character for what he is: a mess, a loser.

And the wonder of this movie is that, by the end of the film, he isn’t much different. There are no epiphanies, no 12-step programs, no sunrises and swelling of the orchestra. The movie takes great pains to show us that seeking justice for a few moments — and even getting well-paid for it — doesn’t transform you. It just makes surviving a hell of a lot easier.

As with most great movies, the plot doesn’t torture us with intricate details. Galvin has a single case — one that he has neglected for months. A young woman lies in a coma, brain-damaged while giving birth. To Galvin, it’s literally a no-brainer. He plans on snagging a quick settlement with the Catholic Archdiocese that runs the hospital.

An early scene shows Galvin visiting his client for the first time, as he sits on an adjoining bed in a constant-care ward. As the Polaroids of the comatose woman, tethered to a halo of life-perpetuating machines, take shape, we see that Galvin, maybe for the first time, is realizing that his client — and he — are human.

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An open letter to Congress

Hey Congress.  You really want to do something? You want to help?

Bail me out.

I’m serious. I’m working on almost 25 years of erratic judgment, poor financial decisions, questionable relationships, employment reversals. The list goes on and on. As a matter of fact, the other day, I bought this comforter that was on clearance at Target. Then I got home and realized that if it was draped on my bed and matched next to my area rug, my apartment would be like living inside of a kaleidoscope.

Not a good decision.

I’ve taken risks. And I don’t mind telling you that not all of those risks panned out. Like when I moved to a small town in Colorado with literally no plan for financial survival. Turns out food costs the same there as it does here. That really didn’t work out so well. Or that date. I had the leave the restaurant through the kitchen. Again, a roll of the dice that really didn’t go my way. Or when I thought I knew how to fix my iPod with no knowledge of electronics repair. Or those left-handed golf clubs. Or when I didn’t get insurance on that rental truck. I didn’t even know you could do that to another vehicle, didn’t know the metal skin of a car can peel off like the outside of an onion.

Bad plays, all of them. But you can’t be a high-roller without some pain in your game.

Okay, maybe I should have married that woman in college. She’s probably a huge success now. Or taken that job in Boston. Or not turned down that one in Los Angeles to move to Cleveland. Or flossed more. Or, you know, filed that income tax return. As it turns out, the IRS keeps track of stuff like that. They have computers. 

But Nancy, Harry, can we talk? You can help. Make it all go away. Wave the wand.

Bail me out. Hell, buy me out. You can have a share of the franchise. Like some of those derivatives and subprime mortgages, I might surprise you down the road and pay off. You can get in the ground floor, Congress. Pardners.

And let me tell you something, it’s not going to take any $1 trillion either. I am a steal at, I don’t know, let’s say, heck, $300 million. That’s a drop in the bucket. We just spent that in Iraq as I wrote that sentence. A steal.

Think about how you will be changing the lives of everyday Americans. Not just mine, but the lives of family members, friends and co-workers, all of whom in some way or another, have been along for the whole sorry ride, who’ve had to make the late-night pick-ups, had to look in the fields for my car keys, or come to the emergency room, the people who’ve stolidly stood by for nights of endless second-guessing and rumination. Borne witness to self-doubt and loathing, forced to mutter platitudes over and over again about how things will get better, how a few lousy decisions don’t ruin a man’s life. They are emotionally exhausted. They need some relief.

And yes, I understand there have to be some conditions. I’m not looking for carte blanche. I wouldn’t even know where to put it. So go ahead, create some new regulatory apparatus. Some kind of board or authority that I can answer to. If anyone needs a few new rules and regs promulgated, it’s me. Heck, you know what, just as our friends on Wall Street are doing, I will write them myself. Who knows me better than me? That way, you don’t have to do a thing.

In fact, I’m going to put the finishing touches on the proposal over the weekend and get you something early next week. Let’s say Monday. Then maybe we can whip that baby through the pipeline so you can get on home for campaign season and tell people that you have improved the lives of ordinary people just like them.

Thanks, Congress. I owe you one, buddy.




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Global warming ruins my day

Some days, the world spills in.

Take Tuesday for example. I came out of a meeting to find a message on my office phone. It was left by the woman who runs my 3-year-old daughter’s school.

“Please come and get your daughter,” she said. “There is a bomb threat. We are dismissing early.”

That’s all she said. Not your typical afternoon message. My daughter’s school is Columbia Heights, a neighborhood north of downtown D.C. It is propitiously lacking in terrorist targets.

So I take a cab in the middle of the day up to the school to grab my daughter, who is, thankfully, oblivious to the world we now in live in, where a crazy bomb threat can empty a few city blocks. She instead accused me of screwing up the days of the week and dropping her off on Saturday. In her mind, I had returned to rectify my error.

As we went to the subway, a Metro employee told me there the “bomb threat” had merely been a suspicious package. This, in fact, was the package:



I had seen this “person” earlier that morning surrounded by police and had incorrectly assumed it was a homeless man who was for some reason known only to him wearing a giant dog head. (You have to give the residents walking by him credit for being only mildly interested, as if seeing a homeless man dressed as a minotaur happens all the time.)

Instead, this wasn’t a person at all. It was a mannequin of a “homeless” polar bear, left there by as yet unidentified artist to protest global warming. Others have been popping up around the city.

The Washington police department was not edified. Instead it shut down the Metro station, emptied the block, and “defused” the bear. By the time I grabbed my daughter, the bear was already gone. And we had an afternoon to kill.

We went to the park. All dogs there had to be leashed. Bears too.

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DOUBLETAKE: Strong in the fundamentals

Doubletakethe summer sensation, is back for the new fall season. Join Tribune correspondents Jim Tankersley and Jim Oliphant every day as they tackle the mysteries of the political universe and, well, breed alpacas to make a little cash on the side, because face it, this gig doesn’t pay all that great.

Jim Tankersley: Good afternoon. Once again, we are unnervingly face to face. This must stop.       

Jim Oliphant: I know. Talk about ignoring the man behind the curtain. Our mojo, such at is, derives from the fact that we never have to be accountable to each other. In a sense, it’s like a long-distance relationship.


Tankersley: You mean, like the Fed’s new marriage to AIG?

Oliphant: Yeah, suddenly Big Government is everybody’s friend. Funny how that happens.

Oliphant: Do you realize that during the Bush administration, we have had three catastrophic events (four, if you count Iraq, five, if you count Katie Couric) and with each there has been a corresponding increase in federal spending, influence and bureaucracy? That is staggering for an eight-year stretch.

Tankersley: It’s not like we’ve never been here before. Astute Doubletake readers will recall the Chrysler bailout of the late 70s/early 80s, as the New York Times’ David Leonhart notes today.

Oliphant: The Chrysler comparison is a good one because again we are protecting a company from its own bad judgment. If only the government would do that for me. I never would have bought that guitar. And then there was that Internet date. . . . Continue reading

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