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Cobell | Law
Washington Sketch: Judge Lamberth once again makes the news


"In barring the Obama administration from funding human embryonic stem cell research, U.S. District Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth this week added to a 23-year history of confounding presidents of both political parties from the bench of the politically sensitive court in the nation's capital.

Lamberth on Monday issued a preliminary injunction putting on hold President Obama's funding guidelines for stem cell research, ruling that experiments with such cells fall under an "unambiguous" 1996 law by Congress that prohibits federal funding of research that destroys human embryos. He acted after a three-judge appeals court overturned his move to dismiss the case, reversing his opinion that researchers who challenged the rules lacked legal standing to sue.

Lamberth, 67, is no stranger to controversy. Tall, garrulous and proudly Texan, Lamberth commands his court with the presence and wit of a Sydney Greenstreet character cast as a heroic defender of the Alamo.

Lamberth's most public misstep came in a landmark case brought by Native Americans over the Interior Department's century-long failure to account for hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties and rents owed to Indian landowners. He held two secretaries of the Interior - from the Clinton and Bush administration - in contempt of court and ordered sanctions against a half-dozen agency lawyers for improper conduct in the case.

"Our 'modern' Interior Department has time and again demonstrated that it is a dinosaur - the morally and culturally oblivious hand-me-down of a disgracefully racist and imperialist government that should have been buried a century ago," Lamberth wrote.

He was ultimately removed by an appeals court, however, which concluded that the public could question his objectivity. Still, some of his colleagues privately sided with his frustration with what he saw as government stonewalling and incompetence."

Get the Story:
Washington Sketch: Stem cell judge used to stirring things up (The Washington Post 8/25)