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Justice Department lawyer Malcolm Stewart was looking for a way to placate the frustrated Chief Justice John Roberts during a Supreme Court argument. Lawyerly good sense meant Stewart could not tell the chief justice he tried to warn him away from the case months ago.
The issue at the high court Monday was a new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency dealing with runoff from logging roads. As it happened, the regulation was issued on Friday, less than 72 hours before a Supreme Court argument dealing with the same topic. The regulation probably will keep the court from issuing a meaningful ruling in the dispute between timber interests and environmentalists.
Roberts wanted to know if Stewart was as surprised as the justices were. Stewart said only that he learned of the regulation the morning it was issued.