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U.S. Supreme Court

Scalia calls out lawyer for a failure to extemporize

Posted Jan 15, 2014 11:12 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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File photo of U.S. Supreme Court
Justice Antonin Scalia courtesy
of ABA Media Services.

A lawyer arguing on behalf of a Wyoming family fighting the government’s effort to reclaim a strip of land got off to a rough start in the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Lawyer Steven Lechner was arguing that the government did not retain any interest in an abandoned railway when Justice Antonin Scalia interrupted, report Josh Blackman’s Blog and SCOTUSblog.

“Counsel, you are not reading this, are you?” Scalia asked (PDF).

According to SCOTUSblog, “Lechner didn’t answer, simply standing silent for a lengthy embarrassed moment. Lawyers at that lectern are, it seems, supposed to extemporize.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer then jumped in, telling Lechner, "It's all right."

Lechner, of Lakewood, Colo., is chief legal officer for the Mountain States Legal Foundation. He represents a family that received about 80 acres of property, subject to a railroad right of way, in a government land swap in 1976. Now the government is reclaiming about 10 acres for use as a recreational trail after the railroad abandoned the land in 2004.

According to SCOTUSblog, Lechner “had Scalia on his side almost all the way (at least after the justice’s initial taunt).”

SCOTUSblog summed up the issues this way in previous coverage: “The dispute, in fact, is a classic one of competing interests: the personal right to own property free of restrictions that the government may assert, perhaps belatedly, versus the government’s obligation to manage the public lands to maximize policy goals to serve a supposedly larger community of interest.”

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "SCOTUS case puts focus on property-rights group"

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