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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death forced the rest of the court to learn how to work together to avoid ties, Justice Elena Kagan said during a stop Friday at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Kagan spoke for about an hour with UW Law School Dean Margaret Raymond as scores of law students, attorneys and judges listened. Raymond asked Kagan what role the high court can play in mending a politically polarized country and improving civil discourse.

Kagan acknowledged that many people see the court as mirroring the nation's political differences and the court ultimately must decide cases, not provide an example for how other governmental institutions should function. But she said Scalia's death in 2016 forced the remaining eight justices to work together more closely.

Justice Neil Gorsuch replaced Scalia earlier this year, but before he joined the court the justices worked hard to avoid 4-4 ties out of fear they'd been seen as incapable of doing their jobs, Kagan said.

"None of us wanted that to happen," she said. "It forced us to keep talking to each other. ... I'm actually hopeful that the effects of it will continue. All of us will remember not to stop the conversation too soon and all of us will remember the value of trying to find a place where we can agree or more of us can agree."

She didn't offer any specific examples of compromises on any cases. Raymond didn't ask Kagan about any cases pending before the court and Kagan didn't offer any comments about any specific issues.

She did joke that she was glad she wasn't the court's junior justice anymore now that Gorsuch is on board. She said the junior justice has to open the door during the justices' conference and deliver any coffee or files other justices have requested from their clerks. Earlier this year she had injured her foot and was in a walking boot but her colleagues still made her get up and open the door.

Court eyes Massachusetts church-state dispute

•  State Bar News     updated  2017/09/05 08:42


An attorney says a Massachusetts town should not be barred from giving public funds to support the restoration of a historic building just because it happens to be a church.

Nina Pickering-Cook told Massachusetts' highest court on Thursday that communities' ability to protect their historic resources shouldn't change because the structures are owned by a religious entity.

At issue is whether the town of Acton violated Massachusetts' constitution when it approved more than $100,000 in community preservation grants to restore stained-glass windows and identify other needs at a church.

Douglas Mishkin is an attorney for the taxpayers who brought the lawsuit. Mishkin told the court that active houses of worship are clearly prohibited from getting taxpayer dollars.

The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule in the coming months.




President Donald Trump has tapped one of his own White House attorneys for a judgeship on one of the most important federal appeals courts, opening the door for confirmation hearing questions about the legal controversies that dominated the first seven months of Trump's presidency.

Gregory Katsas was nominated Thursday to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Katsas, the deputy White House counsel, was a former Justice Department official under President George W. Bush. A biography on the White House's website says he has argued more than 75 appeals, including the constitutional challenge to President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court.

He would replace the libertarian-leaning Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who retired this summer. The court is influential, in part because of its role in adjudicating many of the orders and laws put forth by the administration. It is sometimes called America's second highest court because it can be a stepping stone to the Supreme Court just a few blocks away.

Katsas, once a law clerk to Justice Thomas, has served in high-ranking Justice Department roles, including as head of the civil division that has responsibility for defending the administration's policies against court challenges. He is part of the steady stream of Jones Day law firm partners who have flowed into the Trump administration, including White House counsel Don McGahn.

So many Jones Day attorneys work in the White House that the counsel's office issued a blanket ethics waiver for them so that they can maintain contact with their former colleagues without running afoul of ethics provisions. The firm's lawyers continue to represent members of the Trump campaign outside the White House.


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