Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Kids, cover your ears

It’s true, you learn much more out in the real world than you do in school. Just look at the kids who today attended the State Department press briefing for Take Your Child to Work Day. Instead of lessons in nation-building or food aid, they were treated to a discussion of prostitutes and strip clubs. 

With Washington gripped by a widening Secret Service scandal, reporters just couldn’t steer clear of the salacious story. Soon after spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saluted the handful of underage observers, the questions moved to charges that Secret Service agents and other government workers cavorted with strippers and prostitutes while on overseas assignments. Nuland lamented the topic du jour and one Department employee jokingly moved to cover his daughter’s ears.

The roughly half-dozen kids were models of decorum. There they sat, on the sidelines of the briefing room, staring down at the floor. None asked a question. But they might have been thinking “Mom, Dad, when we get home tonight, you’ll have some explaining to do.”

Here are our top stories from Washington…

US on guard for attacks ahead of bin Laden anniversary – President Obama has reviewed potential threats to the United States ahead of the anniversary next week of the killing of Osama bin Laden, but there is no concrete evidence that al Qaeda is plotting any revenge attacks, the White House said. Bin Laden’s killing last year by U.S. commandos is touted by the Obama administration as one of his top accomplishments and it may help inoculate the president from Republican election-year claims that he is weak on national security.  For more of this story by Alister Bull, read here.

Biden knocks Romney for “back to the future” foreign policy – Vice President Joe Biden blasted Mitt Romney’s foreign policy vision as backward-looking and tied to George W. Bush, hammering the presumptive Republican nominee for thinking like a CEO and not like a commander in chief. The remarks were Biden’s latest attempt to define Romney as out of touch with Americans, and his foreign policy critique marked a shift from the Obama campaign’s focus on economic and domestic differences with the president’s Republican rival.  For more of this story by Jeff Mason, read here.

Washington Extra – Moonshot no more

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich bows his head in prayer before speaking at First Redeemer Church while on a campaign tour in Cumming, Georgia, February 26, 2012. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Earth calling Newt: When the biggest news of your presidential campaign is the penguin biting your hand at the zoo, it’s probably time to pack it in.

Even though Newt Gingrich’s odds of winning the Republican nomination were about as long as those of realizing his dream for a moon colony, the 68-year-old seemed to enjoy himself to the end. “I never got the sense that he was quote-unquote down,” said adviser Charlie Gerow. “I got the sense on a couple of occasions that he was tired. Really tired.” And really in debt. His campaign spent $4.3 million more than it brought in.

Washington Extra – The bench’s backstories

As the Supreme Court justices convene Wednesday to hear arguments in the case Arizona v United States, will their thoughts drift to Italy, Ireland, Poland and Puerto Rico? 

The challenge to Arizona’s tough immigration law may have the justices thinking about their own families’ origins and journeys to America. As Reuters reports today, nearly all of them, like their countrymen, descend from people who came looking for a better life (the notable exception is Justice Clarence Thomas whose great-grandmother was a slave).

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court seen in a October 8, 2010 group portrait. Seated from left to right in front row are: Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Standing from left to right in back row are: Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr., and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Supreme Court votes 6-3 on attending Obama’s speech

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Six U.S. Supreme Court justices plan to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, the same number as last year when Obama criticized the court’s corporate political spending ruling.

There had been speculation that fewer justices might show up after Obama’s rare rebuke for the ruling by the conservative majority striking down corporate election spending limits.

A court spokeswoman said six of the nine justices plan on going. She said one who won’t be attending is Justice Samuel Alito, who happens to be in Hawaii this week for a previously scheduled law school speech.

A first at the U.S. Supreme Court

New Justice Elena Kagan’s first written ruling was released, an 18-page opinion in a bankruptcy-tax case, the first arguments in the court’s term that began in October.

The ruling was not a blockbuster.

In her opinion, Kagan said a debtor who does not make loan or lease payments may not take a car ownership deduction.

USA-COURT/KAGANShe ruled against Jason Ransom, who filed for bankruptcy in Nevada in 2006. He owned his car, a Toyota Camry, outright, and claimed a $471 per month deduction for car ownership expenses. The trustee and some creditors objected. Kagan agreed with them.

In Brown vs. Kagan, the decision is in…

Just because he introduces you to his colleagues, doesn’t mean he’ll vote for you.

That’s what U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan found out on Thursday about Senator Scott Brown.

Usually there wouldn’t have been great expectations for a Republican senator to vote for a Democratic president’s nominee, but in the case of Brown vs. Kagan the outcome was a question mark.

May 26 is the real Court drop-dead date

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Amidst the fever of  speculation about when President Barack Obama will unveil his next nominee to the Supreme Court, administration officials quietly point to one date — May 26 — as the absolute deadline for him to make his choice.

May 26 is the date last year when Obama named then-appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his first nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy. And despite what became a fairly nasty battle over her qualifications, she was confirmed on August 6, before the Senate adjourned for its August recess.

The logic at the White House is that opposition Republicans cannot argue that there is not enough time to consider a nominee if Obama makes his announcement before May 26, because there was enough time last year for Sotomayor.

U.S. Supreme Court closes front entrance, by 7-2 vote

The Supreme Court’s famous front entrance, at the top of its marble steps and under the words “Equal Justice Under Law,” will be closed to the public.

Starting Tuesday, visitors will no longer be able to enter the building through the front doors at the top of 44 marble steps on the plaza directly across from the U.S. Capitol. On days when there are arguments in major cases like abortion or free speech rights, the line to hear the arguments often stretches well beyond the plaza.

USA-COURT/SOTOMAYORInstead, visitors will enter the building through ground-level side doors, going through a new screening facility that has been built as part of the Supreme Court’s  modernization project.

Happy Birthday Justice Stevens, from Barack Obama

stevensU.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens celebrated a milestone birthday Tuesday when he turned 90, and received a letter of congratulations from President Barack Obama.

“For the last 35 years of your remarkable 90, the nation has benefited from the rigor, courage, and integrity that have marked your service on the Supreme Court,” Obama said in a letter to Stevens.

“Our system of justice and our nation are stronger and fairer because of your sterling contributions,” Obama wrote in the letter released by the Supreme Court.

Busted at the U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court unveiled a white marble bust of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was remembered as an exceptional lawyer, a skillful judicial administrator and an avid tennis player. COURT

The $50,000 marble portrait of  the influential conservative jurist wearing his judicial robe will join the busts of 15 other former chief justices in a prominent hallway before the entrance to the courtroom. Rehnquist died from cancer four years ago after serving on the nation’s highest court for more than 33 years.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who once worked for Rehnquist as a Supreme Court law clerk and then succeeded him, and  Justice John Paul Stevens, both described Rehnquist as a great chief justice at a special ceremony Thursday.