J. Michael Luttig

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J. Michael Luttig
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
In office
August 2, 1991 – May 10, 2006
Appointed by George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Seat established by 104 Stat. 5089
Succeeded by G. Steven Agee
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel
In office
President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by William P. Barr
Succeeded by Timothy Flanigan
Personal details
Born John Michael Luttig
(1954-06-13) June 13, 1954 (age 64)
Tyler, Texas
Political party Republican
Education Washington and Lee University (B.A.)
University of Virginia School of Law (J.D.)

John Michael Luttig (born June 13, 1954) is an American lawyer and a former United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Education and early work[edit]

Born in Tyler, Texas, Luttig received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Washington and Lee University in 1976. He then attended the University of Virginia School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctor in 1981. He served briefly in the Reagan administration, where his duties included reviewing potential judicial appointments and vetting them for ideological consistency with the administration's policies. From 1982 to 1984, he clerked for then-Judge Antonin Scalia of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, one of the potential judges he had vetted in his prior job, and for Chief Justice Warren Burger.[1] Luttig later served as co-executor of Burger's one-page will, which gained notoriety for Burger's failure to dictate how estate taxes should be paid.[2][3] Luttig continued to work for Burger as a special assistant until 1985, when he entered private practice at the Washington office of Davis Polk & Wardwell. In 1989, Luttig returned to government service, holding various positions within the United States Department of Justice until 1991 under George H. W. Bush.[1] His duties in the Justice Department included assisting Supreme Court nominees David Souter and Clarence Thomas with their Senate confirmation proceedings. His assistance of Thomas proved somewhat controversial because he assisted Thomas in his highly contested hearing after his own appointment to the federal bench had been approved by the Senate, but he did not take office as a judge until after the Thomas hearings had concluded.[4][5]

Federal judgeship[edit]

On April 23, 1991, President George H. W. Bush nominated Luttig to fill a newly created seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Confirmed by the United States Senate on July 26, 1991 and receiving his commission on August 2, 1991, he became the youngest judge (at age 37) on a federal appeals court at the time of his appointment.[5]

On the bench, Luttig was compared to Justice Scalia for his analytical rigor and for criticizing his colleagues for inconsistencies or embellishments in their judicial opinions.[6] He was also similar to Scalia in that his judicial philosophy sometimes led to what were seen as anti-conservative opinions.[1][5]

Luttig was mentioned frequently as being near the top of George W. Bush's list of potential nominees to the Supreme Court of the United States despite opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a dispute between Luttig and the Bush administration over the handling of the case of alleged "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla (see below).[7][8] Bush interviewed but ultimately did not choose Luttig to fill two Supreme Court vacancies in 2005.

Luttig was the leading feeder judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, with virtually all of his law clerks having gone on to clerk with conservative justices on the Supreme Court,[9] a total of 40 with 33 clerking for either Justice Thomas or Justice Scalia.[10] Luttig's clerks have nicknamed themselves "Luttigators".

John Luttig's murder[edit]

Luttig's father, John Luttig, was fatally shot in 1994 in a carjacking by Napoleon Beazley. Beazley was eventually executed after twice appealing to the Supreme Court, where Justices Antonin Scalia, David Souter, and Clarence Thomas recused themselves because of past associations with Luttig. Scalia recused himself because Luttig had clerked for him, and Justices David Souter and Clarence Thomas recused themselves because Luttig led the George H. W. Bush Administration's efforts to gain the Senate's confirmation for them.[11] This case is also noteworthy for the fact that Beazley became one the last juvenile offenders executed before its abolition with Roper v. Simmons in 2005.


José Padilla and clash with Bush administration[edit]

In September 2005, Luttig wrote an opinion for a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit, which upheld the government's power to designate José Padilla, the alleged "dirty bomber" who was captured at a Chicago airport, as an "enemy combatant" and to detain him in a military brig without charge.[12] In December, the Bush administration, anticipating a reversal in the Supreme Court, petitioned the Fourth Circuit for approval to transfer Padilla to civilian custody for a criminal trial. The move set off a dispute between the Bush administration and Luttig.[13] Luttig's panel refused to grant the transfer and castigated the government for potentially harming its "credibility before the courts".[14] The government petitioned the Supreme Court to allow the transfer by arguing that the lower court's refusal encroached on the power of the President. The Supreme Court granted the government's request.[15]

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld[edit]

In the case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Luttig disagreed with the majority opinion of his colleagues on the Fourth Circuit and argued that Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen captured in Afghanistan and held as an enemy combatant, deserved "meaningful judicial review" of his case.[1] The Supreme Court eventually reversed the Fourth Circuit's judgment.


In 2006 Luttig resigned to become general counsel and senior vice president for The Boeing Company.[16][17] In his resignation letter, Luttig wrote, "Boeing may well be the only company in America for which I would have ever considered leaving the court."[18] He also mentioned his two children's upcoming college education; the position at Boeing promised more pay than the federal judgeship. At the time of his resignation, federal appellate judges were paid $175,100 annually.[19] According to Boeing's 2008 Annual Report, Luttig's total compensation for 2008 was $2,798,962.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Bazelon, Emily (July 1, 2005). "The Supreme Court Shortlist". Slate. Retrieved 2008-10-22. 
  2. ^ "Famous Will: Warren Burger". doyourownwill.com. 
  3. ^ "Last Will and Testament of Warren Burger". livingtrustnetwork.com. 
  4. ^ Totenberg, Nina (6 July 2005). "Possible Successors to Chief Justice Rehnquist". National Public Radio. Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c "Luttig, J. Michael - Federal Judicial Center". www.fjc.gov. 
  6. ^ Deborah Sontag, "The Power of the Fourth," The New York Times Magazine, March 9, 2003
  7. ^ Bazelon, Emily; David Newman (July 1, 2005). "The Supreme Court Shortlist". Slate. Retrieved 2006-08-06. 
  8. ^ Woellert, Lorraine (July 18, 2005). "Full Court Press". Businessweek Online. Retrieved 2006-08-06. 
  9. ^ "Appeals court judge a rising star among conservatives". CNN. August 22, 2001. Archived from the original on July 23, 2008. Retrieved May 5, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Clerks Highlight Supreme Court’s Polarization" article by Adam Liptak in The New York Times September 6, 2010, accessed September 7, 2010
  11. ^ Bonner, Raymond (August 14, 2001). "Three Abstain as Supreme Court Declines to Halt Texas Execution". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "PADILLA v. HANFT" (PDF). Findlaw. 
  13. ^ McGough, Michael (January 2, 2006). "How do you solve a problem like Padilla?". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2006-08-06. 
  14. ^ "PADILLA v. HANFT" (PDF). Findlaw. 
  15. ^ Bravin, Jess; Lunsford, J. Lynn (May 11, 2006). "Breakdown of Trust Led Judge Luttig to Clash with Bush". Wall Street Journal: A1. Retrieved 2006-05-11. 
  16. ^ Markon, Jerry (May 11, 2006). "Appeals Court Judge Leaves Life Appointment for Boeing". The Washington Post: A11. Retrieved 2006-05-11. 
  17. ^ Markon, Jerry (May 11, 2006). "Appeals Court Judge Leaves Life Appointment for Boeing". Washington Post. pp. A11. Retrieved 2006-08-06. 
  18. ^ "Untitled Page" (PDF). www.ca4.uscourts.gov. 
  19. ^ http://www.actl.com/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=2729
  20. ^ "The Boeing Company 2009 Annual Meeting of Shareholders". envisionreports.com. 

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Seat established by 104 Stat. 5089
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Succeeded by
G. Steven Agee