News Roundup

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died during the weekend at a hunting ranch in Texas.  As the Washington Post reports, his unexpected death has enormous political and legal consequences.  Some conservative politicians have argued that President Obama should not nominate a successor for Scalia’s seat on the court because the vacancy comes in the last year of Obama’s presidency.  Obama has indicated that he will nominate a candidate because he has a constitutional responsibility to do so.  More after the break:

More Scalia News:

  • A Politico article argues that the “big political and legal mess” caused by the unexpected passing of a justice could be mitigated by the abolishment of lifetime appointments and the implementation of a new rule where justices serve staggered 18-year terms.
  • Two of Scalia’s former law clerks share their experiences clerking for the famously intimidating justice here and here.
  • The News & Observer has a story about Scalia hosting N.C. State Park Scholars when the scholars made annual trips to Washington. One of Scalia’s former clerks, John O’Quinn, had been the student body president at N.C. State and persuaded Scalia to host the students.  In the piece, O’Quinn also shares memories of Scalia from his time as a clerk.
  • Former Obama advisor David Axelrod has an article on where he says that Scalia openly told him that he hoped Obama would nominate Elena Kagan to fill Justice David Souter’s seat. Justice Sotomayor got that nomination, but Obama did nominate Kagan a year later to fill Justice Stevens’ seat.  Kagan and Scalia reportedly became hunting buddies.


Former Justice Calls for External Review of State Bar.  The News & Observer reports that former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr has called for an external evaluation of the State Bar.  Reportedly, Orr questions whether recent high-profile bar disciplinary proceedings involving defense attorneys have been improperly motivated given that many bar lawyers are former prosecutors.  Orr perceives “two extreme camps” within the bar, one supportive of prosecutors and the other supportive of defense attorneys.

Racial Disparity in Arrests for Small Amounts of Marijuana.  The Charlotte Observer reports that a review of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department arrest records from the past two years indicates that the department has “arrested blacks found with less than a half-ounce of marijuana at about three times the rates of whites” in cases where the sole charge was simple possession.  According to the report, blacks were arrested 28% of the time while whites were arrested 10% of the time when charged with the same crime.  A department spokesman said that officers have discretion whether to issue a citation or make an arrest for the crime.    

Open Sesame. The San Jose Mercury News reports that a federal magistrate judge’s order that Apple help the FBI break the encryption on an iPhone belonging to one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terror attack sets the stage for an “epic showdown” between the tech company and the government.  Apple has announced that it will oppose the order because complying would require the company to “build a backdoor to the iPhone” that would be a “master key” capable of “unlock[ing] any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.”  One-time murder suspect and current libertarian presidential candidate John McAfee, the developer of McAfee anti-virus software, has offered to save everyone the trouble by simply decrypting the phone himself for free.

Electric Chair.  The Washington Post reports that Virginia lawmakers are “mulling a bill that would allow state officials to use the electric chair to execute those on death row when lethal-injection drugs are not available.”  The necessary drugs could be in short supply as soon as next month and an execution is scheduled for March 16.  Virginia already allows execution by electrocution, but condemned inmates are permitted to choose between lethal injection and electrocution.  Currently, state law does not explicitly permit the use of electrocution as a back-up plan when an inmate chooses lethal injection and the drugs cannot be obtained.

4 thoughts on “News Roundup”

  1. It’s encouraging of course to see someone of Justice Orr’s stature acknowledge the State Bar’s repeated ethical embarrassments, but he’s being way too cute to suggest the problem is rooted in “two extreme camps”…..
    In reality one camp enjoys a monopoly on power (spoiler alert: It ain’t the defense attorneys) and doesn’t hesitate to use it when annoyed:
    Joe Neff of the N&O
    neatly poses the contrast:
    “For most of 2015, the North Carolina State Bar vigorously and publicly pressed ethics charges against two anti-death penalty lawyers for what were eventually judged to be unimportant inaccuracies in two sworn affidavits.
    “During the same time, the bar privately dismissed complaints that three prominent prosecutors – one running for attorney general, another now a Superior Court judge – used a false affidavit in a racially divisive case that has roiled Winston-Salem for more than a decade….”

  2. Interesting that Justice Orr didn’t mention that he is presently co-counsel with the respondent from one of those very disciplinary proceedings. I’m sure that has nothing to do with his statement though.


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