In the Loop: Obama Keeps His Critics Close

By Al Kamen
Friday, September 11, 2009

President Obama's insistence on being nice to absolutely everyone -- even to new Loop Favorite Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) -- is driving the left side of his base a little batty. But hey! He's nice to them, too.

Take for example, the May 21 speech in which Obama said he'd be real careful to "exhaust every avenue" in attempting to prosecute Guantanamo Bay prisoners but allowed that "a number of people" -- seriously dangerous folks -- may be locked up without trial for a long, long time.

That policy drew a blistering rebuke from Sarah H. Cleveland, a Columbia Law School professor of human and constitutional rights, who told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee in June that, despite Obama's promised safeguards and oversight, "prolonged detention without trial offends the world's most basic sense of fairness."

So on Tuesday, Columbia announced Cleveland's appointment as counselor on international law in State Department legal adviser Harold H. Koh's office. She's going to "help develop the State Department's position" on international matters and "human rights cases" in federal courts and will be "the liaison between the legal adviser's office, the office of the solicitor general, the Department of Justice and the White House counsel."

Sounds as though she'll be in every meeting.


Speaking of legal matters, new Solicitor General Elena Kagan made her debut Wednesday at the Supreme Court -- her first appearance before any appellate court -- surviving a baptism by fire, with the toughest questioning by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Antonin Scalia.

Kagan appeared in a modern attire -- a dark suit and an open-necked sky-blue blouse -- ending the tradition that the government's top appellate lawyer, and everyone in the SG's office, wear a formal "morning coat" in appearances before the court.

Is it sexist to note the clothes of the country's first female solicitor general? No, it's historic, our colleague Robert Barnes reports.

Like everything at the court, this has been serious business. The late senator George W. Pepper of Pennsylvania used to talk of the scandal he caused as a young lawyer in the 1890s, when he arrived to argue before the court dressed in "street clothes."

"Who is that beast who dares to come in here with a gray coat?" Justice Horace Gray whispered to a colleague.

Kagan talked over the change with her fellow lawyers at the SG's office, including women who have worn the coat, and made discreet inquiries of the court. The current justices apparently told her they would not take offense if she wore whatever she wanted.

So, according to Justice Department spokeswoman Beverly Lumpkin, the new official policy on the morning coat is that "the men in OSG will continue to wear it, as will whichever women choose to wear it."

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