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Court greets Holder

In a brief ceremony Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court welcomed the new U.S. Attorney General, Eric H. Holder, Jr.  But Holder quickly learned that the Court will not always rule as the Attorney General wishes.

As Holder was leaving the Courtroom, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., announced a decision titled Nken v. Holder (08-681) — emphasizing, to laughter in the audience, “versus Holder!”  In Nken, the Court rejected a Justice Department argument that it should be more difficult for aliens ordered to leave the country to get a court-ordered delay of their departure while they appeal.  (The position by the government actually was taken before Holder was in office; in fact, when the case was argued Jan. 21, the Chief Justice introduced it as “Nken v. Filip.”  At the time, Mark R. Filip was Acting Attorney General, replacing Michael Mukasey; the change to “Holder” was routine after he took over as Attorney General.  Ultimately, the Justice Department lost the case on a 7-2 vote.)

As the morning session began, the new Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, introduced Holder to the Justices, noting that he is “the eighty-second Attorney General of the United States.”  The honor fell to Kagan because the Solicitor General is the government’s chief advocate before the Court.

The Chief Justice responded: “General Holder, on behalf of the Court, I welcome you as the chief law officer of the United States government and as an officer of this Court.  We recognize the very important duties that will rest upon you by virtue of your position, and we wish you well in your new office.”

Holder offered brief thanks, turned from the lectern, but then stopped briefly on hearing the announcement of the Nken decision.