Nearly three thousand attorneys joined the rolls of the U.S. Supreme Court bar from October to May, a Supreme Court spokesperson told Bloomberg BNA May 13.
Bar admission is essential for attorneys practicing before the court. “For nearly all purposes, the rules of the Court require that every party (unless appearing pro se) be represented by at least one member in good standing of the Supreme Court Bar,” according to a leading Supreme Court treatise, Stephen M. Shapiro et al., “Supreme Court Practice” §20.1 (10th ed. 2013).
But it’s unlikely that all the members of the Supreme Court bar — totaling more than 300,000 throughout the court’s history, according to Supreme Court Practice — have business before the high court.
So why do so many attorneys shell out the $200 lifetime admission fee?
"[P]referred admission and seating at key Court arguments” may be the biggest reason, Joe Libertelli, Director of Alumni Relations at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, Washington, told Bloomberg BNA in an May 12 e-mail.
“Beyond that, of course, many enjoy having the impressive framed document on their office wall,” Libertelli, whose school sponsors alumni bar admissions once or twice a term, said.
Public seating in the Supreme Court courtroom is extremely limited and available on a “first-come, first-seated basis,” according to the court’s website.
Members of the public generally must begin standing in line hours before the arguments begin at 10 a.m.
But members of the Supreme Court bar have their own section in the courtroom.
Although the “bar section” is also first-come, first-seated, the line is typically shorter.
The seating is also superior. “Attorneys who are admitted as members of the Supreme Court Bar may be seated in the chairs just beyond the bronze railing,” directly behind the arguing attorneys, the court’s website says.
Moreover, bar members have access to the court’s library.
Under Supreme Court Rule 2.1, only “appropriate” court personnel, bar members, “Members of Congress and their legal staffs, and attorneys for the United States and for federal departments and agencies,” may use the library.
So how does an attorney access these perks? The requirements for admission are actually quite simple.
Under Rule 5.1. “To qualify for admission to the Bar of this Court, an applicant must have been admitted to practice in the highest court of a State, Commonwealth, Territory or Possession, or the District of Columbia for a period of at least three years immediately before the date of application; must not have been the subject of any adverse disciplinary action pronounced or in effect during that 3-year period; and must appear to the Court to be of good moral and professional character.”
The applicant must also get two current members of the Supreme Court bar to sponsor him or her.
“No attempt has ever been made to test an applicant’s qualifications to engage in appellate advocacy or to limit admission to those with experience as an appellate counsel,” Supreme Court Practice says.
Accordingly, thousands of attorneys from all areas of practice are admitted to the Supreme Court bar each year.
There are two ways to gain admittance — in court and on written motion.
While admission by written motion is slightly more common, the day can be memorable for those that are able to take advantage of in-court admission.
Admission in court can take place on either “an argument day before the entire Court with the Chief Justice presiding,” or “on a non-argument day with one of the justices hearing and deciding on motions for admission,” Libertelli explained.
“On argument days, a group is limited to 12. On non-argument days, the group can be as large as 50,” he said.
Libertelli said his school generally opts for the argument day group admission ceremonies.
On the morning of the group admission, the applicants and their guest meet in the Supreme Court Cafeteria for breakfast, Libertelli said. “Many times the Clerk of the Court stops by to welcome us and to explain the process.”
“The group is then escorted from the cafeteria to a secure conference room where photos are taken,” he said. “A welcome and instructions are provided by a staff member from the Office of Admission.”
“Then the group is ushered into the Courtroom, with the applicants seated up front and guests a bit further away,” Libertelli said.
“The Chief Justice, before the entire court, then calls groups one at a time. They rise. Individual names are called. And a movant, in our case, Dean Shelley Broderick, herself a member of the Supreme Court Bar, states that the applicants meet the requirements and moves their admission.”
The Supreme Court Clerk’s Office distributes a specific statement to be used when moving admission, the Supreme Court Practice treatise notes.
“The moving party should not add to or embellish this prescribed statement,” the treatise says. “Indeed, the movant is specifically instructed that, '[i]f you alter the motion . . . , the Chief Justice might take the motion under advisement rather than grant it.’ ”
“After the groups have been admitted, the attorneys and guests are given an opportunity to leave the courtroom or remain for one or both arguments,” Libertelli explained.
“Most stay and soak up the historic atmosphere,” he said.
By Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at firstname.lastname@example.org
Full text of instructions for admission at http://www.supremecourt.gov/bar/barinstructions.pdf.