Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday News & Notes

1.  Which group is more diverse?  The U.S. Supreme Court or the lawyers who argue before it? 

The Supreme Court by a long shot.  From the AP:

In roughly 75 hours of arguments at the Supreme Court since October, only one African-American lawyer appeared before the justices, and for just over 11 minutes.
The numbers were marginally better for Hispanic lawyers. Four of them argued for a total of 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Women were better represented, accounting for just over 17 percent of the arguments before the justices.
In an era when three women, a Hispanic and an African-American sit on the court and white men constitute a bare majority of the nine justices, the court is more diverse than the lawyers who argue before it.
The statistics from the court term, though, also reveal a lack of African-American and Hispanic lawyers in the elite Justice Department unit that represents the federal government at the Supreme Court.
The top supervisory positions in the Office of the Solicitor General all are held by men, though there are six women in the office who argued high court cases this term.
The office serves as a pipeline to the big firms that dominate the argument calendar at the court. Lawyers in the office make several arguments a term and acquire the experience and ease of standing before the justices that make them attractive to private firms.

2.   What does defalcation mean? Even though the Urban Dictionary doesn't define it, the High Court has finally decided:

After a century and a half of uncertainty, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday finally decided the meaning of "defalcation," a word in the bankruptcy code that can refer to embezzlement but also, more generally, misuse of funds.
Under federal bankruptcy law, anyone acting as a fiduciary who later seeks bankruptcy relief cannot discharge debts if there is evidence of "fraud or defalcation."
In a unanimous decision, the court said that for a court to make a defalcation finding about a trustee, the person in question must be acting with gross negligence or have some knowledge that what he or she is doing is improper.
In the past, the precise meaning of defalcation had not been determined by the Supreme Court. The term was first used in bankruptcy law in 1841 and in relation to discharge of debt in 1867.
In making its views known, the court handed a victory to Randy Bullock, an Illinois man who is filing for bankruptcy.
Bullock wanted to discharge debt concerning money he owes for his role overseeing his father's life insurance trust. He used money from the trust to make investments for himself and other family members. He eventually paid the money back with interest.
The question before the court was whether Bullock's actions, which did not deprive the trust of any money, fitted within the legal definition of defalcation.
The court did not make a final determination on that point, instead remanding the case back to the district court so that the new definition of defalcation can be applied.
3.  Sixty percent of the time the Supreme Court is unanimous.  I was surprised (via USA Today):

With three more 9-0 rulings issued Monday, the nine justices of the Supreme Court have now reached unanimous decisions in nearly 60% of the cases decided this term -- a loftier rate of agreement than in recent years.
That percentage is sure to drop as more controversial cases are decided between now and the end of June, when the 2012 term ends. Last term, the justices were unanimous 45% of the time. The recent high was 48% two years ago. From 2006-08, fewer than four in 10 rulings were unanimous.
For this time of year, however, the 60% mark is quite an achievement for a court narrowly divided between Republican and Democratic nominees. During the past three years, slightly more than half the decisions were unanimous at this time, according to detailed statistics kept by Scotusblog.com.
Chief Justice John Roberts puts a premium on reaching consensus. So he likely was pleased Monday when the three decisions announced by Democratic nominees Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan each garnered nine votes. None of the other justices even chose to write separate concurring opinions.


Anonymous said...

As to the lack of diversity of the lawyers arguing before the Court from DOJ, its sort of a function of the fact that in order to even be considered for the SG's office, you need to have clerked on the SCOTUS (or a handful of pretiguous circuit judges), and even that does not guarantee anything.

Obviously, the pool of applicants that have clerked for the Court is very small, let alone minorities that have clerked there. Also, you have to be willing to live in DC, so there is a geographic limitation as well. I do know that recently the SG's office was focusing its diversity effort on hiring more women.

Anonymous said...

my neighbor's dog is often guilty of defalcation

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