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How to Be Admitted to the Supreme Court Bar and Why You Should

Josephine Bahn

Summary

  • Anyone who wants to argue before the United States Supreme Court must be admitted to the Supreme Court Bar.
  • Even if you never argue a case before the Supreme Court, there are still several significant, long-term perks to being admitted to the Court—especially as a young lawyer.
  • Members of the Supreme Court Bar can access special seating for Supreme Court hearings and decision announcements and can access the Supreme Court’s library.
How to Be Admitted to the Supreme Court Bar and Why You Should
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A few years ago, I wrote an article for After the Bar detailing the basics of what the United States Supreme Court does and how its rulings affect all Americans. A unique opportunity to become a member of the Supreme Court Bar opened, and I decided to join its ranks. As part of the process, I plan to detail some of the benefits of being admitted as a member of the Supreme Court Bar.

The ABA Senior Lawyers Division hosts a yearly Supreme Court swearing-in ceremony—a true once-in-a-lifetime experience. As the 2022–23 ABA Young Lawyers Division Chair, I will join them for this unique opportunity in June. This piece is written, in part, as a series of that experience.

Of note: anyone who wants to argue before the United States Supreme Court must be admitted. Specifically, “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.” See Stephen M. Shapiro et al., Supreme Court Practice §20.1 (10th ed. 2013).

How to Be Admitted to the Supreme Court Bar

To be admitted as a member of the Supreme Court Bar, an attorney must first complete the application. Overall, the application process is incredibly smooth and swift. An attorney can forgo an additional bar examination or extensive application when applying for membership to this bar. Nearly all US lawyers who have practiced for three years are eligible for admission to the Supreme Court. Specifically, under the United States Supreme Court Rules, Rule 5.1:

[t]o 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 one-page application requires the following:

  • some basic background information from the applying attorney,
  • two sponsors who are currently members of the Supreme Court Bar, and
  • one certificate of good standing from the highest court in one of the jurisdictions they are admitted to.

In my experience—and as of the time of the writing of this article, I have applied to four states for bar admission—the Supreme Court Bar application took less time than any of the basic questions asked in any of the previous bar applications I’ve completed. The application also requires a $200 application fee—a one-time admission price to the highest court in the land.

Admission to the Supreme Court Bar Offers Notable Long-Term Perks

Even though my opportunities to argue a case before the Supreme Court seem unlikely, there are still several significant, long-term perks to being admitted to the Court—especially as a young lawyer.

Special Seating for Hearings and Decisions Announcements

First, members of the Supreme Court Bar can access special seating for Supreme Court hearings and decision announcements—allowing them to skip the line for public seating. This is especially helpful on days when high-profile cases are heard, or decisions are announced. The seating in the Supreme Court courtroom is also elevated. The bar section of the courtroom is located in the chairs just beyond the bronze railing, directly behind the arguing attorneys.

Access to Supreme Court’s Library

Second, under Supreme Court Rule 2.1, Supreme Court Bar Members can also access the Supreme Court’s library to research, work, or access archives. The “library is available for use by appropriate personnel of [the] Court, members of the Bar of [the] Court, Members of Congress and their legal staffs, and attorneys for the United States and for federal departments and agencies.” However, members cannot take books from the library under Rule 2.3.

Additional Benefits of Supreme Court Bar Admission

Other benefits include establishing another credential for your resume, joining a select group of attorneys admitted to the bar, and a certificate of admission fit for any office wall.

If nothing else, the pride you will feel from saying unequivocally that you can practice law in the highest court in the land stands apart. Stay tuned for the next post discussing the next step in the admissions process. 

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