RIP Justice Antonin Scalia

Supreme Court Justice Scalia passed away today. My wife Kathryn Ballentine Shepherd, a semi-retired attorney, has worked at the Supreme Court since 2003 (in the Curator’s KBS and Scalia.jpgOffice, giving Chambers tours and lectures on the  history of the Court and its Justices). Through her I’ve met and spent quite a bit of time with Justice Scalia over the years, and always enjoyed his writing and analyses, his humor and humanity. You see here a recent photo of Kathryn joking with him at the Supreme Court – he really seemed to love spending time with her, joshing with her in front of crowds (perhaps because she was a smart lawyer as well), and he always seemed to steer visiting friends to her for a “private” tour.

I was at Chief Justice Rehnquist’s funeral in 2005; he was deeply loved by the Supreme Court “family.” On today’s Court, the most-loved by them in my observation: Antonin Scalia.

One of the funnier moments in my recollection was at a 2006 Supreme Court Historical Society reenactment of the Aaron Burr treason trial held in the Court’s actual Chambers one evening, with Justice Scalia playing the role of the actual trial judge, Chief Justice John Marshall. Scalia peered down from the bench as the DC attorneys recruited for the event began to play out their own roles – among them Scalia’s own son Eugene, a powerhouse lawyer in his own right. “Chief Justice Marshall” (Justice Scalia) looked over his glasses and boomed out, “OK, who’s next – it says here your name is, um, Scall-ee-a, Scall-eye-a, what kind of name is that??” The audience roared with laughter. That was the common reaction to his ever-present, ever-witty humor.

For seven years I’ve recycled an old Reagan-era joke (it was originally about Thurgood Marshall), updating it for the Obama Administration and asking, “Who’s the most important conservative in Washington DC? Justice Scalia’s doctor.” In today’s hyper-politicized era, we’re about to see why….


EU says, Costs of Open Source Outweigh the Benefits?

FACT: According to a Reuters story today, “The European Commission, a thorn in Microsoft’s side for its antitrust campaigns against the software giant, is falling short in its own internal attempt to promote more competition in the technology sector. The European Union executive has so far not followed its own policy that it purchase office software and operating systems with open standards as well as Microsoft products.”

(c) European CommunityIn the money quote, according to the Reuters story, the EU’s director of IT solutions “said in an interview arranged by a spokeswoman for Commissioner Siim Kallas, who oversees procurement, that studies showed the costs of moving to open source outweighed the benefits.” 

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Best Joke by a Supreme Court Justice

FACT: Chief Justice John Roberts said in a speech on Friday that he will increase the number of cases heard by the Supreme Court from two a day to three during the coming term beginning in October, according to an AP account of his speech. Roberts says that if the busier fall schedule lightens the caseload by next spring, he may be able to cut back then. 

ANALYSIS: When Roberts became Chief Justice in 2005, some Court observers wondered whether the younger Chief would begin burdening his colleagues with more work, increasing the Court’s caseload by granting more cases.  Now it looks like he may attack the issue in a slightly different way, hoping to cut a swath through the caseload issue with a burst of activity but not necessarily more cases overall.

Friday, the affable Roberts pointed out that the increase to three arguments each court day might put a strain on the Solicitor General’s Office, since it saddles the burden of arguing the federal government’s side in most of the cases.  But Roberts also pointed out that it’ll mean more work for the journalists who cover the Court – a small but tenacious crowd who like to pass judgment on the Court and its performance regularly.  Roberts then joked: “After careful reflection, I decided I didn’t care.”

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Egypt’s Supreme Court

FACT: Last month Egypt’s parliament passed a new law on public demonstrations in the vicinity of religious facilities (churches, mosques, etc.).  Already, lawyers are planning for an appeal and review of the law before Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (photo left), the nation’s highest judicial body.  


ANALYSIS: I wrote earlier that at the Microsoft Institute we’re thinking about ways to help improve the operations and capabilities of the judicial branch of government, at various levels. 

Perhaps my interest has been piqued by the fact that, for quite a while, I’ve been sleeping with a brilliant lawyer – oh, that would be my wife Kathryn. While she’s retired from active practice, she spends some volunteer time each week at the U.S. Supreme Court, giving public lectures on the history of the Court and its justices for the Curator’s Office.

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Required Reading on Innovation and Patents

FACT:  If you’re a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s tremendous books (“The Tipping Point” and “Blink“), then you probably read the New Yorker magazine just to get his articles.  He has a new piece this week, “In the Air: Who Says Big Ideas are Rare?” in which he describes the phenomenally appealing work of the legendary Nathan Myhrvold and his current gig running “Intellectual Ventures,” often mistaken for a VC firm.  Gladwell recounts the facts that Myhrvold “graduated from high school at fourteen. He started Microsoft’s research division, leaving, in 1999, with hundreds of millions.”  It is what he’s done since then that grabs the mind, particularly if you’re interested in invention and innovation:

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Friendships and Professional Relationships

FACT: The General Accounting Office has lifted a week-old ban imposed on IBM’s ability to win any new federal contracts (or work on new task orders for existing contracts).  But, according to ComputerWorld, “IBM still faces an investigation by the EPA as well as a federal grand jury probe over a bid for a contract at the agency in 2006.” The ban had been imposed because of significant problems in the process surrounding the $84 million Environmental Protection Agency contract, which the company lost last year. 

ANALYSIS: Now that the ban has been lifted, I am glad to relay the news — not only because I blogged about it when imposed but also because I admire IBM and its work for government. But the circumstances made me think about my own current set of relationships with former colleagues in the federal government.

According to the AP’s account of the agreement struck with IBM leading to the ban’s lifting, which I read in Enterprise Security Today, “Several IBM employees allegedly obtained protected information from an EPA employee, ‘which IBM officials knew was improperly acquired, and used the information during its negotiations to improve its chance of winning a contract,’ according to the agreement. Such an act violated federal procedures… IBM has placed five individuals on administrative leave pending its own internal investigation and any federal probe.”

I don’t have more to say about the issue per se, other than riffing on that human aspect of the affair to make a personal comment about my own experience since leaving the federal government’s payroll last December….

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