Mr. Dellinger at Bat
The city gets a top lawyer to argue its gun control case, but the process wasn't pretty.
Friday, January 4, 2008; A20
THE DISTRICT is expected to announce today that Walter E. Dellinger will become its lead lawyer on the landmark gun rights case before the Supreme Court. This is terrific news for the residents of the city and the effort to revive the District's gun ban, which was struck down earlier this year.
Mr. Dellinger, who served as acting solicitor general during the Clinton administration, is a top-notch appellate advocate with an impressive record of Supreme Court appearances. He has ably argued cases across the legal spectrum, including those involving civil rights, corporate affairs and, most relevant, gun control. Just as important, Mr. Dellinger has been steeped in the D.C. gun rights case since the beginning and was instrumental in shaping the District's opening brief, which is to be filed today. He'll be able to hit the ground running in preparation for the likely oral argument in March -- a distinct plus, since Mr. Dellinger already has two Supreme Court cases scheduled for February.
While Mr. Dellinger's appointment is welcome, it is unfortunate that it coincides with the District's shoddy treatment of its former lawyer, Alan B. Morrison. Last Friday, Mr. Morrison received an e-mail kicking him off the case; he was also instructed to clean out his District office by next Monday. The e-mail came one week before Mr. Morrison and the D.C. team were scheduled to file their opening brief, and it was sent not by General Counsel Peter J. Nickles, who made the decision to fire Mr. Morrison, but by Mr. Nickles's deputy.
Mr. Morrison believes he was let go because he was hired by former attorney general Linda Singer, who resigned last month after expressing frustration with Mr. Nickles. Mr. Nickles said Mr. Morrison's allegations are "absolutely" not true and that he simply came to believe that Mr. Morrison was not the best lawyer to represent the District in the landmark gun case. As for the e-mail pink slip, Mr. Nickles said that he could not have sent it because he is not scheduled to take over as acting attorney general until Sunday. He said he asked his deputy to deliver the bad news early to give Mr. Morrison as much notice as possible.
This kind of public personnel turmoil in advance of a Supreme Court argument doesn't exactly show the District in its best light. And it was unfair to Mr. Morrison, a highly qualified lawyer who made significant contributions to the District's legal case. But it's reassuring that the District has ended with able representation.