Big Judicial News: Michael Luttig Resigns
The Supreme Court has lost its biggest law clerk feeder. Michael Luttig, a conservative Fourth Circuit judge who many expected to receive a Supreme Court nod, is leaving the bench to become general counsel to Boeing.
This is big news in many respects. For law students, the single most reliable path to the Supreme Court has closed. While I do not have hard numbers on this, I believe that for at least the last six or seven years, all – or virtually all – Luttig clerks have landed Supreme Court clerkships. This is an awesome statistic. There are always a few judges with very high rates of law clerk placement, but I am not aware of a single judge who has offered the certainty of Judge Luttig. Of course, the Luttig trail was not open to all comers. Luttig vetted his clerks to make sure they were in tune with him ideologically.
For Supreme Court watchers, this means that the odds of a Luttig nomination have just dropped measurably. I suspect that once Roberts and Alito took places on the Court, Luttig recognized that he could not be next. It seems virtually impossible to imagine that, if he gets another nomination, Bush will name a white male. Even if Bush gets two chances, Luttig’s odds have gotten long. Notwithstanding his experience on the Fourth Circuit, Luttig looks much less logical coming from a corporate slot then from a circuit court.
Fourth Circuit enthusiasts (and, as a former Fourth Circuit clerk, I count myself as one) will all watch to see if Bush actually manages to find and pick a nominee as conservative as Luttig. I think it will be awfully difficult to do, but it will be even harder to pick someone as ideologically consistent.
Make no mistake, though. This is big news. Judge Luttig was an important nominee for George G.W. Bush back in 1991. At 37, his appointment was a beachhead for movement conservatives. He was supposed to be on the Supreme Court. Bush’s two recent picks received strong support from the right. But a Luttig nomination would have triggered an entirely different sort of jubilation. For many judicial conservatives, Michael Luttig was a fellow traveler. He will be missed.
Hat tip to Howard Bashman.