Recent headlines have proclaimed that retired federal judge J. Michael Luttig will be a “blockbuster” witness this month in public hearings before the House Select Committee on January 6. But just who is Michael Luttig? And why is it important that he will testify before the January 6 committee?
Just Who is Michael Luttig?
Michael Luttig is a 68-year-old ultra-conservative lawyer and former judge who almost became a Supreme Court justice. After law school, he worked in the White House Counsel’s office under President Reagan and clerked for then-Judge Antonin Scalia. He worked in several legal jobs under Republican administrations, including as head of the Justice Department’s influential Office of Legal Counsel. He played a direct role in helping with the Clarence Thomas confirmation.
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated Luttig to the powerful federal court of appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Even then, progressive groups like Alliance for Justice called the nomination “troublesome.” Several years on the bench clearly revealed Luttig’s right-wing views. For example, Luttig wrote a decision striking down key parts of the Violence Against Women Act, affirmed by a 5-4 Supreme Court vote. He struck down important rules under the Endangered Species Act. He wrote an opinion upholding a state late-term abortion ban.
As many right-wing advocates supported Luttig’s nomination to fill the vacancy created by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement, progressives raised serious concerns. People For the American Way referred to him as “ultraconservative.” The American Constitution Society reported that he had been labeled a “mini-Scalia.” One analyst noted that Luttig took a “radical, muscular view” of the courts’ power to “strike down popularly supported federal laws,” while adopting a “radically restrictive” view of federal courts’ authority to “remedy violations of constitutionally protected rights.” Luttig remained popular with the Far Right after he retired from the bench in 2006 to become a corporate lawyer, after the Supreme Court vacancy went to Samuel Alito.
Can Luttig testify directly about events related to January 6?
Yes, and he is expected to do so. Luttig reportedly played a “pivotal role” in advising Vice President Mike Pence on how to handle his responsibilities in January, 2021, and how to respond to Trump efforts to delay or block the congressional certification of President Biden’s victory. Luttig reportedly urged Pence to reject these efforts and helped develop the legal and constitutional rationale for doing so.
Especially coming from a noted conservative like Luttig, this direct testimony about what happened in January should prove extremely important. Luttig has made clear that he will testify if invited by Congress.
Can Luttig provide other important testimony to Congress?
Yes. Because of his role in advising Pence and in dealing with other Republicans, Luttig has formed strong opinions about the impropriety of what Trump and his allies have tried to do after the election. He has already expressed such views publicly. Coming from a well-known conservative, live testimony from Luttig can become very powerful. For example, Luttig has written that:
- “January 6 was never about a stolen election or even about actual voter fraud.”
- Instead, “[i]t was always and only about an election Trump lost fair and square, under legislatively promulgated election rules in a handful of swing states.”
- “Trump and his allies” have been “unabashedly readying” their “failed 2020 plan to overturn the 2024 presidential election.”
- The efforts of “former President Donald Trump and his political allies” present a “clear and present danger to our democracy.”
Particularly coming from a Michael Luttig, such testimony will be riveting. For all Americans, it will be must-see TV.