JONATHAN COHN AUGUST 24, 2010
U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth made headlines yesterday for ruling that President Obama’s program providing funding for embryonic-stem-cell research is illegal. Here are four things you should know:
1. He’s a long-time public servant: Lamberth got his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Texas and then spent the next six years in the Army JAG Corps. From 1974 to 1987, he was the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and led its civil division from 1978 to 1987, when President Reagan appointed him to the D.C. U.S. District Court. In 2008, he became the court’s chief judge.
2. He earned a strong reputation opposing the Clintons: In 1997, he fined the government more than $285,000 because Ira Magaziner, a top healthcare advisor, lied about the composition of a task force. The fine was overturned on appeal in 1999. Lamberth also “allowed Judicial Watch bulldog Larry Klayman to depose everyone from George Stephanopoulos to famous fundraiser John Huang in suits against the administration that most judges would probably have thrown out as frivolous,” according to Washington Monthly.
3. He doesn’t just pick on Democrats: From 1996 through 2006, Lamberth presided over a class action lawsuit by Native Americans alleging the government had mismanaged billions of dollars in trust-fund money. Lamberth “consistently sided with the Indians” and held Bush Interior Secretary Gale Norton (and Clinton-era Interior chief Bruce Babbitt) in contempt of court, the New York Times reported. In 2006, an appeals panel removed him from the case for losing his impartiality, citing, among other things, a 2005 ruling that labeled Interior “a dinosaur -- the morally and culturally oblivious hand-me-down of a disgracefully racist and imperialist government that should have been buried a century ago.”
4. He’s had a hand in many major legal opinions: He served as the top judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a classified court that makes rulings interpreting intelligence law, from 1995 to 2002. In his position on the U.S. District Court, he’s been involved in cases assessing the legality of holding various prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. And Lamberth was one of the three judges initially involved in the Citizens United case. They ruled against Citizens United, holding that their documentary about Hillary Clinton illegally violated restrictions on election advertising; on appeal, the Supreme Court ruled the restrictions unconstitutional.