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Attorney General to Argue at High Court

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2008/03/13 17:33

Attorney General Michael Mukasey will argue a case before the Supreme Court this month, honoring a custom that his two predecessors ignored. Mukasey will be the first attorney general since Janet Reno in 1996 to represent the government at the high court. Neither John Ashcroft nor Alberto Gonzales, President Bush's first two attorneys general, argued a case at the court.

Mukasey will ask the justices on March 25 to reinstate the conviction of would-be millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam on a charge that an appeals court threw out, Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said.

The 66-year-old Mukasey is a former federal judge who presided over high-profile terrorism trials in New York.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned just one of the nine counts on which Ressam was convicted for plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport around Jan. 1, 2000. The charge in question is carrying explosives during the commission of another serious crime.

The appeals court said the law required prosecutors to show the explosives were carried "in relation to" the felony, which in this case was lying on a Customs form.

Mukasey will urge the justices to reverse the appeals court, in part because the ruling could make it harder to prosecute terrorists. The government argues that the law means a defendant must be carrying the explosives at the same time as he commits another crime.

Ressam's lawyer, Tom Hillier, said Mukasey's involvement "doesn't change the question before the court."

"Same case, same facts," said Hillier, the federal public defender in Seattle. "Attorney General Mukasey has had a distinguished career as a federal judge and before that as a prosecutor. He'll do a great job. He knows his stuff."

Reno was on the winning end of the case in which she argued, in support of Maryland, that police can order passengers and drivers to get out of vehicles during traffic stops.

Griffin Bell did not fare as well when he took on a controversial case in the Carter administration. Bell argued unsuccessfully against letting an endangered fish, the tiny snail darter, stop a federal dam project.

Only about one-third of the court's cases this term have been decided. The most important cases often are announced in the final days in late June.

But of the 18 majority opinions handed down so far, eight justices have written at least two each; Justice Samuel Alito has written none.

Newer justices often take a little longer to churn out their work, but Alito's first opinion last term came in December for a unanimous court.

Alito's paltry output could be a result of nothing more than the wait for dissenters to file their opinions.

The more contentious rulings typically come later. Justices need time to read drafts of their colleagues' work and make changes based on the input. It is not known what opinions Alito is writing, but most of the easy cases from the term's early days have been decided.

This all could change next week when the justices return to the bench and are likely to issue decisions.

Alito has not been completely silent. He wrote dissenting opinions in two cases involving a judge's discretion to be lenient toward defendants in drug cases.


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