Wallace and Luttig:

I am really quite surprised by the ABA's rating of Michael Wallace for the 5th Circuit. During my time teaching at Mississippi College School of Law I had the opportunity to gain some degree of acquaintance with Mike through various Federalist Society activities and he always impressed me as smart, even-tempered, and with a "judicial demeanor." His resume--Rehnquist, Phelps Dunbar, etc.--speaks for itself. In fact, it was almost 10 years ago that I taught in Mississippi, and during that time it was simply assumed that Wallace would inevitably ascend to the 5th Circuit when there was an opening and he was ready to do so. In my experience, even at that time he was widely regarded as one of Mississippi's leading attorneys. The whole imbroglio with Judge Pickering set him back a few years, but rarely have I encountered such an inevitable Court of Appeals nominee during my career.

On that basis, I am baffled by what the ABA could have found to rate him unqualified. Is there some public pronouncement that provides a rationale for their decision? Can anyone shed any light on what the ABA was thinking? I haven't been able to find anything that states the basis for the ABA's decision.

As for Luttig, I'm not as surprised by that news as others seem to be. Others, such as Orin, are and several of his commenters indicate that they don't really understand what is going on here. Judge Luttig too is an acquaintance/friend and one who I hold in the highest regard as a man and a judge. I haven't talked to him about his decision, though, so like other bloggers, I'm simply speculating. I suspect that disappointment over the Supreme Court certainly has something to do with it and does boredom, as others have speculated. I was once talking to a fellow law professor about the life of a judge and she said, "Could you imagine red brief-blue brief for the rest of your life?"

It has also been my impression that being a VP-GC of a major corporation would be an extremely interesting and exciting job. Less so after SOX, I suspect, but still quite interesting. Off the top of my head, I can't think of anyone who I know who has left a law partnership to become a GC of a major corporation and has gone back. In addition, I know that several of Judge Luttig's friends and contemporaries also have moved into GC positions and have prospered both financially and professionally in recent years. The range of business, legal, and management issues that such a job brings really seems like quite an interesting mix with substantial perks. In that sense, his decision is actually less puzzling to me than was Michael Chertoff's decision to leave the Third Circuit to go to DHS or even Ken Starr's decision long ago to leave the DC Circuit to become Solicitor General, both of which are/were temporary positions.

Luttig will be back "in the arena" of making business and legal decisions too, which is something that many people enjoy and find that they miss in a more cloistered atmosphere. One of my senior colleagues at Alston & Bird was one of the nation's leading bankruptcy attorneys and had been offered a teaching position both at the outset of his career and later at the end of his career (just around the time I left practice as a junior associate to enter teaching). At both stages of his career, he passed. So when I told him that I was leaving to teach he said to me, "As you know, I've thought about teaching. But I finally decided that I enjoy the courtroom and the boardroom too much to spend the rest of my career in the classroom." By which he meant that he preferred to tackle the day-to-day challenges and issues that arise in the real-life practice of law (at least at his very high level) to a more passive and routine sort of life.

So, it appears that the right situation seems to have come along at the right time. From that perspective, I'm not sure that there are any more general lessons to read into his decision regarding judicial pay or anything like that.