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Big bankers hire seasoned Supreme Court litigator

By A. James Memmott

January 19, 2010 at 8:19am

Carter G. Phillips has argued 66 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. It appears he could have at least one more.

A financial industries group has hired Phillips to examine the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s proposed special tax on financial institutions with assets over $50 billion.

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association has opposed the tax as punitive. A spokesman for the group did not comment to The New York Times on Phillips’ hiring beyond saying that he was working on “a series of regulatory and legislative matters, including the tax.”

Phillips is managing partner of the Washington office of Sidley Austin LLP, the same firm that in 1989 hired First Lady Michelle Obama as an associate in the Chicago office.

A year later, she met Barack Obama, then a student at Harvard Law School and a summer associate at Sidley Austin.

Phillips graduated from Northwestern University of Law in 1977.

He went on to clerk for Judge Robert A. Sprecher of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago for a year. He then clerked for Chief Justice Warren E. Burger of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Republican, Phillips served for three years as assistant to the U.S. solicitor general during the Reagan administration, arguing his first case before the Supreme Court at age 29.

Phillips joined Sidley Austin in 1984. He has since represented a wide variety of clients before the Supreme Court ranging from Microsoft Inc. to the Navajo Nation. He was also an adviser to the lawyers who won a case upholding the Miranda ruling.

A 2000 Business Week story placed Phillips in an elite group of Supreme Court litigators. It included Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School; Theodore B. Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP; and John G. Roberts Jr., who was then with Hogan & Hartson and is now the Supreme Court’s chief justice.

According to Business Week, Phillips has a contrasting style as a lawyer.

“His written submissions have real rhetorical fire,” Thomas G. Goldstein, a lawyer and Supreme Court watcher, told the magazine. “Then he stands up in oral arguments and puts on a much kinder face.”

Phillips’ daughter, Jessica, also attended Northwestern Law School, graduating in 2006. Like her father, she then clerked at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, working for Judge Joel Flaum.

Continuing to follow in her father’s footsteps, she went on to the U.S. Supreme Court, clerking for Justice Samuel A. Alito. Jr.

Alito was her father’s colleague when the two men worked together in the solicitor general’s office.

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