Judicial Notice (12.10.22): Doing Law
(Laughter) at SCOTUS, a high-profile lawyer's firing, and other legal news from the week that was.
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December might be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also incredibly busy. It can be challenging to keep up with work while at the same time completing holiday shopping, attending seasonal soirées, and preparing for upcoming travel.
After returning from a trip to Milwaukee, where I spoke to local lawyers and judges about free-speech issues in the legal profession, I published two stories, a look at the new class of Skadden Fellows and an interview with Judges Jim Ho and Lisa Branch. I also recorded a new episode of Movers, Shakers, and Rainmakers, in which Zach Sandberg and I interviewed Lindsay Hutner, co-chair of the employment litigation practice at Greenberg Traurig.
And some folks were far busier than I was—like all the lawyers in the news this week, to which we now turn.
Lawyer of the Week: Neal Katyal.
A former acting U.S. solicitor general and current star of the Supreme Court bar, Neal Katyal of Hogan Lovells argued before the Court in one of the most important cases of the Term, Moore v. Harper (discussed in more detail below as Litigation of the Week). His bravura performance won praise from a wide range of observers, including Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, who wrote that Katyal was in “top form,” and Sarah Isgur of Advisory Opinions, who said Katyal turned in the best advocacy of the Term so far.
What I most admired about Katyal’s argument was how he engaged with the originalist justices on their own terms. Addressing Justice Thomas, Katyal said, “In two decades of arguing before you, I've waited for this precise case because it speaks to your method of interpretation, which is history.” Justice Thomas, who famously refrained from questioning advocates for more than a decade, quipped in response that he had been waiting 30 years to ask Katyal a question—to good-natured laughter.
Moore v. Harper wasn’t the only bright spot in Katyal’s week: two days later, the Supreme Court granted his certiorari petition in Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski. Together with a team from Cooley, Katyal and Hogan Lovells represent Coinbase, which asked SCOTUS to resolve a circuit split on whether litigation should automatically be stayed for parties appealing the denial of a motion to compel arbitration. If you have a high-stakes case before the high court, whether constitutional or commercial in nature, you should seriously consider hiring Neal Kumar Katyal—if you can afford him.
Other lawyers in the news:
Congratulations to Atif Azher of Simpson Thacher & Barlett, honored by the American Lawyer as its 2022 Corporate Attorney of the Year, as a result of handling more than 40 deals worth over $200 billion since 2020.
In the latest news about disgraced South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh, prosecutors have provided additional details to support their theory that he murdered his wife and son in order to distract from his financial crimes.
Leading litigator Derek Shaffer, co-chair of the government and regulatory and national appellate practices at Quinn Emanuel, incurred the ire of Chief Judge Kimberly Moore when defending a $187 million fee award before the Federal Circuit. Chief Judge Moore wondered whether what she perceived as his (over)zealous advocacy might be influenced by a financial interest in the outcome, asking him, “Does your profit and your paycheck reflect whether Quinn Emanuel gets that $187 million?” Shaffer demurred, explaining that his compensation is really up to “the powers that be” (read: John Quinn).
Judges of the Week: Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Justice Elena Kagan.
In the other big SCOTUS case argued this week, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, website designer Lorie Smith argues that forcing her to design websites for gay weddings under a Colorado public-accommodations law would violate her First Amendment free-speech rights. This predictably led to a plethora of hypotheticals at oral argument—such as this rather bizarre one from Justice Samuel Alito: