Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw Makes Her Mark

When the Supreme Court summarily reverses a lower court’s ruling—that is, when it reverses without seeing any need for briefing on the merits and oral argument—that’s ordinarily* quite a black mark for the judge who authored the opinion below. Most federal appellate judges go through their entire careers without such a summary reversal.

And then there’s Ninth Circuit judge Kim McLane Wardlaw (appointed to that court by President Clinton).

The Supreme Court’s unanimous summary reversal two weeks ago in Kernan v. Cuero marks at least the fourth such reversal of a Wardlaw ruling, on top of those in McDaniel v. Brown (2009), Whitman v. Dep’t of Transportation (2006), and Gonzales v. Thomas (2006). It’s almost as if she’s deliberately competing against her colleague Stephen Reinhardt for the Lifetime Summary Reversal Award. (My thanks to the reader who called Wardlaw’s feat to my attention.)

Perhaps not coincidentally, one feature that three of the four Wardlaw rulings share is that Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain—one of the few very bright spots on a dismal court—was in dissent.

* I say ordinarily because there might be instances when the judge below is compelled by badly mistaken circuit precedent to rule as he did.

Most Popular

Film & TV

In Unsane, Aetna Meets Kafka

Unsane doesn’t take the form of a horror film; at first, it appears to be a Hitchcockian thriller about mistaken identity or perhaps getting ensnared in a web of bureaucracy. Yet with clinical detachment it develops into a nerve-flaying story almost too agonizing to endure. Unlike most horror movies, it isn’t ... Read More

Viva l’Italia?

Italy has just had elections, with very interesting results. I wanted to talk with Alberto Mingardi, which I have. He is one of the leading classical liberals in Italy -- the director general of the Bruno Leoni Institute, in Milan. (Mingardi himself is Milanese.) He is also an authority in arts and letters. In ... Read More

Putin and the Cult of Leadership

On Sunday, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin won an unsurprising reelection-campaign victory against Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, by a margin of 76.7 percent to 11.8 percent. The results were unsurprising because Putin is a tyrant who murders or imprisons political rivals, and who isn’t afraid to use ... Read More

Trump and Brexit Derangement Syndrome

I am not one of those Brexiteers who believe that Brexit and Trumpism are essentially the same phenomenon in two different countries. To be sure, they both draw on some of the same political trends, notably a distrust of elites and an upsurge of popular anger over evident failures of public policy such as illegal ... Read More