April 29, 2019 Practice Points

How to Attend Oral Argument at the Supreme Court

This should be on every lawyer’s career bucket list.

By Mark E. Rooney

Attending oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court should be on every lawyer’s career bucket list. On argument days at the high court you’ll get to witness the nine justices in action, not to mention the highest level of professionalism and skill from the advocates.

But how do you get to the Supreme Court? Notwithstanding the old joke about Carnegie Hall (you get there by “practice”), for attorneys who are not representing clients before the Court anytime soon, there are two main ways to attend oral argument.

The first applies to any member of the general public. If you are not admitted to the Supreme Court bar (see below) then you should follow this process. On argument days, the line for the general public begins on the plaza in front of the Supreme Court’s main entrance. Admission is made on a first come, first served basis. Arrive early. The last time I attended oral argument, a group of law students began camping out there around 5:00 a.m., which made them first in line. There are helpful police officers stationed all around the plaza, and any one of them can guide you. The public line begins to move inside around 9:15 a.m.

The second method applies to members of the Supreme Court bar. If you are a member of the bar, you do not have to wait outside on the plaza. You may enter through any of the public-access doors. Once inside, ask a police officer to direct you to the check-in line for bar members. You will need a government-issued identification card to show to the court employee, who will check your name against the bar records. Special cards are issued for each day’s oral argument and will be given to you after you check in. You must present that card to another court official before entering the chamber.

Whether you enter through the general-public or bar members’ line, here are a few additional tips to keep in mind:

  • There is a coat check. For those standing outside for hours in the public line on cold argument days, don’t hesitate to bundle up; you can shed your gear at the coat check.
  • There are also lockers available for bags. They are coin operated—so bring a quarter!
  • You cannot bring anything into the courtroom except a notepad and writing implement. No electronics at all (including smart watches), no coats, no briefcases. All of these should be relegated to the coat check or lockers.
  • There is a cafeteria inside and ample restrooms are available.
  • Oral arguments usually start at 10:00 a.m. and you should plan to be seated by 9:30 a.m.
  • As you would expect, the lines are longer, and begin to form sooner, on days when the Court hears highly controversial or interesting cases.
  • For more information about seating, see the Supreme Court’s website.
  • To be admitted to the Supreme Court bar, see the Court’s instructions here. Notably, you must (1) have two sponsors (current Supreme Court bar members); and (2) show that you are a member in good standing of any state bar, and that you have been admitted for at least three years.

Mark E. Rooney is the principal and founder of The Rooney Firm PLLC in Washington, D.C., and cochairs the Consumer Litigation Committee’s Subcommittee on TCPA and FDCPA Litigation.


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