"It's quite deep, this question." So said Justice Stephen Breyer as he considered whether a state violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment by abolishing the insanity defense. The case, Kahler v. Kansas, was argued on October 7, 2019, the first day of the Supreme Court's 2019 Term. Seated for the first time in the Court's Bar section, just a few feet from the Justices, a group of ABA attorneys hosted by the Lawyers Conference looked on. They took the admissions oath before the Chief Justice only moments before, as the oral argument session began. And, observing nearby in the public gallery of the Supreme Court were their guests, representing communities from across the nation. The Lawyers Conference of the Judicial Division drew these groups to the Supreme Court to participate in a First Monday like no other, as witnesses to an historic case and as new officers of the Court.
To fortify the rule of law and increase understanding of the Judiciary within the legal profession and among the broader public. These core aspects of the mission of the Lawyers Conference come to life in its annual Supreme Court Admissions Program. Each Supreme Court Term, the Lawyers Conference invites attorneys to apply for Supreme Court Bar membership and coordinates their admission. Along the way, the attorneys discover new colleagues and renew their commitment to the legal system inside its most important arena.
This year, attorneys were welcomed by the Court's newest member, Justice Kavanaugh, who introduced us to the Court's newest practice. In the Court's East Conference Room, graced with portraits of the Court's first eight Chief Justices, Justice Kavanaugh explained how the Court would make history that day by allowing each advocate to speak for at least two minutes before taking questions from the Bench. For a Court faithful to its traditions, two minutes of judicial silence represents the change of a lifetime. Justice Kavanaugh quipped that the restraint might also be the challenge of a lifetime. Moments later during oral argument, a new "two-minute light" pierced the judicial silence, allowing the exchanges to flow.
The meeting with Justice Kavanaugh, admissions ceremony, and oral arguments were framed by gatherings, starting the night before at an informal dinner in the heart of Washington D.C., and continuing in the morning with an excellent oral argument preview from Daryl Joseffer, Chief of Appellate Litigation for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. After the morning argument session, which also included a thorny statutory interpretation case, Peter v. NantKwest, the group paused for lunch with Supreme Court historian and legal scholar Ronald K.L. Collins, whose remarks shed new light on Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' Civil War service and its influence on his judicial career. The day ended with a private tour of the Courtroom and optional visit to the Supreme Court Library.
By tradition, the Chair of the Judicial Division makes the motion for admission. This year, former Justice Elizabeth Lang-Miers generously did the honors. The group was doubly honored to be joined by Judge Toni Clarke, (Ret..), former Judicial Division Chair and lifelong supporter of its mission.
The Lawyers Conference invites any attorneys interested in participating in the next admissions ceremony to contact Julianna Peacock. By participating, you help the Lawyers Conference achieve its mission, elevating the profession from a front row seat in the highest Court in the land.