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What it’s like to be sworn into the U.S. Supreme Court bar

I had the opportunity Monday to be sworn into the U.S. Supreme Court bar along with six other candidates. If you’ve ever wondered what the experience is like, here’s a synopsis:

The author, standing, second from right, prior to being admitted to the Supreme Court bar. Baltimore City Circuit Judge Lynn Stewart Mays, who moved for her admission, is sitting third from left. (Courtesy Danielle Williamson)

The author, standing, second from right, prior to being admitted to the Supreme Court bar, with members of the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys and the Monumental City Bar Association. Baltimore City Circuit Judge Lynn Stewart Mays, who moved for her admission, is sitting third from left. (Courtesy Danielle Williamson)

In order to argue before the Supreme Court, you must be a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar. To become a member of the bar, you must be in practice for at least three years and have signatures from two sponsors. The admission fee is $200 and candidates may be sworn in as groups: a small group consists of up to 12 applicants and a large group is limited to 50 or less.

I was with a group of six from the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys. When our group arrived to the Supreme Court building around 8:30 a.m., we were whisked into a waiting room and told about the procedures of the day by the clerk of the court. We were then given a brief synopsis of the oral arguments and the attorneys presenting. Our group was advised that we would be moved in with two other groups: Monumental City Bar Association and a small group from Georgia.

As imagined, the building is bustling with journalists and visitors. Many of the visitors appeared under the age of 13, presumably on a meaningful field trip.

At approximately 9:30 a.m., guests were escorted into the courtroom to wait for the ceremony and arguments. We were seated 15 minutes later in the front of the court, near attorneys presenting oral arguments. At 10 a.m., the clerk began the first order of business, the swearing-in ceremony. Each group had a movant that was given a pre-printed motion to read to the justices requesting that the candidates be admitted to the bar. Our movant was Baltimore City Circuit Judge Lynn Stewart Mays. The clerk administered the oath and we were formally welcomed to the Supreme Court bar by Chief Justice John Roberts. While the entire proceeding took about five minutes, it is definitely a highlight of my legal career.

Immediately following the admissions ceremony, the court jumped into the next order of business, which was hearing oral arguments. The first case before the Court was Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, No. 13-1496,a case that addresses tribal sovereignty. Arguing on behalf of the petitioners was another Maryland attorney, Thomas Goldstein of Goldstein & Russell PC in Bethesda, who has argued more than 100 cases before the court. A decision in that case is expected in the spring.

So what are the benefits of being sworn into the Supreme Court bar? One is obvious: the ability to argue your case before the highest court should it get to that point.  There are also the benefits of prime seating during oral arguments and shorter lines to get inside the packed courtroom.  A lesser known perk is the ability to use the Supreme Court’s law library.

The most inherent benefit, though, is being able to sit in the front of the court, before the justices of the United States and hear their questions live from the bench — after they’ve welcomed you as a member of the bar.

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