“Birther” lawyer rebuffed
The Supreme Court on Monday put an end to a running battle between a California lawyer — a prominent figure in the movement to challenge the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s Presidency — and a federal judge in Georgia. The full Court refused, without comment, to block a $20,000 penalty that District Judge Clay D. Land of Columbus, Ga., had imposed last October on the attorney, Orly Taitz, of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. Earlier this month, Judge Land’s Court put a lien on all of Taitz’s real property until the penalty is paid.
The denial of Taitz’s stay application (Taitz v. McDonald, 10A56), was by the Court after the issue had been referred by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. In July, Justice Clarence Thomas similarly denied the application; it was then refiled with Alito. Now that the full Court has acted, Taitz is blocked from making the same plea to another Justice. Monday’s order was part of the second round of orders the Court has issued during its current summer recess. The final round will be issued Sept. 3.
Among other orders Monday, the Court took routine procedural actions in three cases it will decide in the coming Term, with notations in each that new Justice Elena Kagan is not taking part. Two of the cases — Michigan v. Bryant (09-150) and Staub v. Proctor Hospital (09-400) — were on the list of recusals that Kagan had given the Senate Judiciary Committee while it was considering her nomination. The third case in which her disqualification has now been noted is Henderson v. Shinseki (09-1036).
While the Court denied a lengthy list of petitions for rehearing, it took no action Monday on a plea by a major tobacco company, British American, seeking a reopening of its challenge to a D.C. Circuit Court ruling on company liability under the RICO anti-racketeering law. BATCo contended in its rehearing plea that the Circuit Court ruling has been undercut by the Court’s recent decision against overseas application of U.S. regulatory laws. (The BATCo case is on docket 09-980.)
In the dispute involving California attorney Taitz, Judge Land noted that she had filed a series of cases in various federal courts including his, seeking to raise the claim that Obama is disqualified from serving as President because she (and others) question whether he is a natural-born U.S. citizen, a constitutional requirement In Judge Land’s Court, Taitz had used as vehicles to raise the legitimacy issue the resistance of Army officers to orders that they be deployed to serve in Iraq. Taitz’s lawsuits contended that, since Obama was not a rightful President, he could not issue orders to require deployment of the military overseas.
In a scathing 43-page ruling in October, the judge imposed a $20,000 financial penalty, concluding that the lawyer’s efforts in court had been frivolous, and that she had continued to file cases without legal merit even after being warned against doing so further. The Eleventh Circuit Court rejected her challenge in March; the mandate making that ruling was made final in May, and in August, Judge Land’s Court put a lien on the attorney’s real property. The judge also referred her case to the California State Bar for any action it might want to consider.
The verbal battle between Taitz and Judge Land has escalated at each stage of the proceedings, with strong rhetoric coming from both sides. After one of his rulings against her, Taitz accused the judge of treason. In his Rule 11 sanction decision in October, Land said that Taitz, “as a national leader of the so-called ‘birther movement,’ ” had “attempted to use litigation to provide the ‘legal foundation’ for her political agenda.” The lawsuits, she has said in court papers, were designed to force the President to produce a birth certificate that satisfied her and the members of her movement.
At one stage of the proceedings on the sanction, Taitz protested that a $20,000 penalty was twice the amount that could be imposed for criminal contempt of court. The judge responded that criminal contempt also might carry a sentence of six months in prison, and an average lawyer would give up much more than $20,000 in fees while serving such a sentence.
The judge had expressed the hope that, when the $20,000 was paid, it could be handed over to a foundation that seeks to benefit soldiers and their families — as a counter to Taitz’s use of deployment-resisting soldiers as clients for her cause. The Justice Department, however, advised that a court had no authority to order that the payment go to anyone other than the U.S. Treasury.