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.

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9 Responses

  1. A. Plant says:

    It appears that Luttig was getting off the “short list” one way or another. What sort of compensation package do you suppose he got to leave the Fourth Circuit? I don’t know what “general counsel” officers make at Fortune 100 companies, so I have no frame of reference. At least he will make as much as his former clerks now; that’s not a bad trade if you can’t get your dream job.

  2. Rex says:

    Looks like he’ll earn something in the low seven figures.

  3. anon says:

    It’t not about the money. He’s not that kind of guy, and, besides, given his family resources, he doesn’t need to work anywhere.

    It’s about the challenge.

    While it may be less likely that he will be picked from a job where he is serving as a productive member of the private sector (and why is that anyway? and how in the world can movement conservatives unthinkingly adopt the socialist viewpoint that working for pay makes you unfit for public service?) the experience would only make him a better Justice if the opportunity ever does come.

  4. Bubba says:

    “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.”

    Here are some, slightly outdated, statistics on clerk ascension from the October Term 1999 to the October Term 2003:

    1. Luttig (4th Cir.) (15) [yup – that’s 3 per year, AKA 100%]

    2. Wilkinson (4th Cir.) (11)

    3. Boudin (1st Cir.) (10)

    3. Calabresi (2d Cir.) (10)

    3. Kozinski (9th Cir.) (10)

    6. Edwards (D.C. Cir.) (7)

    6. Silberman (D.C. Cir.) (7)

    6. Tatel (D.C. Cir.) (7)

    9. Williams (D.C. Cir.) (6)

    10. Garland (D.C. Cir.) (5)

    10. O’Scannlain (9th Cir.) (5)

    10. Posner (7th Cir.) (5)

    Statistics taken from the (formerly awesome) judicial gosip rag, Underneath Their Robes…

  5. Stuart Buck says:

    As of 2005, Luttig had sent 39 of his clerks on to the Supreme Court. That’s 13 years worth of clerks (except for the one year that Luttig had four clerks). Given that Luttig started as a judge late in 1991, I’d be surprised if more than one or two Luttig clerks from all time had failed to secure Supreme Court clerkships.

  6. ambimb says:

    Even if Bush gets two chances….

    God forbid!

  7. David S. Cohen says:

    Movement conservatives may be unhappy; movement progressives are not!

  8. Mark H says:

    Luttig was totally incompetent. He was apparently so occupied with his press clippings last fall that he failed to even read a brief and rendered a colossally uneducated decision that perverted Federal trademark law. His resignation can only be addition by subtraction. See

  9. jlspruill says:

    Was Luttig the jurist using his position on the Circuit Judicial Council to cover up a felony conspiracy of a District Court judge?