Thursday, September 30, 2010

NACDL's 6th Annual Defending the White Collar Case Seminar – Special Lunch & Keynote Interview, Thursday, September 30, 2010

Guest Blogger: Ivan J. Dominguez, Assistant Director of Public Affairs & Communications, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)

Interviewer: Abbe David Lowell

Keynote Interviewee: Jeffrey Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Analyst and New Yorker Staff Writer, delivered a fascinating Keynote address at a special luncheon today at “NACDL’s 6th Annual Defending the White Collar Case – In and Out of Court.” The format of the presentation was as an interview by nationally-recognized white collar trial attorney Abbe David Lowell, partner in the Washington, DC, office of McDermott, Will & Emery.

Toobin explained that the reason he left the practice of law for a career in journalism can be traced to his parents, both of whom worked in journalism. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Toobin clerked on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for the late Judge Lumbard. He spoke about the book he wrote on the Oliver North case. Toobin had worked for Independent Counsel Walsh in that matter. Later in the discussion, he explained that he is not a big proponent of the independent counsel structure. Toobin went on to serve as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York. His career in journalism, though, was sealed by the O.J. Simpson case.

Toobin went into some detail about his thorough enjoyment of trying cases, though he doesn’t miss the administrative aspects of the practice of law. As far as his favorite part of being a journalist–it is the youthful joy he gets from reporting.

The conversation then moved to Toobin’s recent book The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Toobin said he is currently working on a sequel. In connection with his research, he interviewed more than 75 former clerks. During this discussion, he offered a variety of insights about current and former Supreme Court justices, including the effects of Bush v. Gore on different justices. As a Supreme Court observer, Toobin explained his view that Bush v. Gore was a very dark moment for the Supreme Court.

He also noted that former Justice O’Connor has been in a sense exiled from the Republican Party, something he said happened to former Justices Souter and Stevens as well.  He described it as a feature of the changed nature of the Republican Party. Indeed, he went on to discuss how former Justice O’Connor is currently working hard, promoting and speaking on the importance of judicial independence, and specifically the undesirability of judicial elections, an effort he said finds its opposition in the Republican Party.

In his discussion of the nomination process to the Supreme Court, Toobin observed that perhaps the most significant development in the American political landscape over the last 40 years has been the turn to the right of the Republican Party, which he suggested might be reinforced by the upcoming midterm election. He explained that in his view the Democratic Party is not as far left as the Republican Party is far right, and this is reflected by the current Supreme Court. In the context of the discussion of the Supreme Court nominees, Toobin characterized Presidents Clinton and Obama as moderates.

Rather than seeing the next Supreme Court nominee be a trial lawyer, Toobin appeared interested in seeing a politician appointed to the Supreme Court. He went on to discuss the history of politicians on the court. In general, he is of the mind that diversity is beneficial in all contexts. He speculated that the uniformity of judicial experience of the sitting justices as appellate justices has come with a cost.


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