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Professional Development

What It’s Like to Be Admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar

Josephine Bahn


  • All US lawyers admitted to practice in a jurisdiction for at least three years are eligible for admission to the Supreme Court Bar. 
  • Read about the experience and learn about the significant, long-term perks of being admitted to the Court.
What It’s Like to Be Admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar
Supreme Court of the United States

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Earlier this year, I discussed the admission process for the Supreme Court of the United States—and the benefits an attorney receives upon admission. When I learned that nearly all US lawyers admitted to practice in a jurisdiction for at least three years are eligible for admission to the Supreme Court Bar, I jumped at the opportunity. After taking the plunge and submitting my application, I was excited to learn that I would be admitted on June 8, 2023. This was a Thursday during the June term, which meant that opinions would likely be issued that day.

The Supreme Court Admission Process—A Two-Day Experience

My experience was seamless, thanks to the dedicated staff of the ABA Senior Lawyers Division, who have offered a Supreme Court Admission program for several years to streamline the process. A couple of weeks before the event, all participants received extensive instructions with times, locations, and required events for the admittee and any of our guests. A revised copy with further updates was distributed days in advance with necessary updates. The trip information packet served as the roadmap for the event.

The Senior Lawyers Division trip is set for two days, with the first serving as the information session for the following day, an inside look at the Supreme Court through the lens of a lecture provided by a Supreme Court scholar, and a networking dinner for the admittees. The program was slated to end early on the first day to ensure everyone had ample time to rest or sightsee before the big day.

A Private Audience with the Chief Justice

On admission day, we met at the designated area at 8 a.m. and waited on the steps of the Court before being granted access through three layers of security (be prepared to leave your cell phone in a locker). To start, the Senior Lawyers Division organized a networking breakfast where we could connect with our peers and guests of the program.

We later learned that a surprise guest agreed to give us a private audience—Chief Justice John Roberts! He was incredibly generous with his time, previewing for us that we would hear four opinions that day (more on that later, though he did say one of the opinions was on an area he “had a lot of experience in”), what the term was like, and even answered some questions. He posed for multiple pictures before retiring for final preparations for the day’s session. We were also treated to a private audience from the Supreme Court Clerk, who discussed the Court’s inner workings and explained what we could expect that day.

A Look Inside the Court

It’s hard to describe the emotions I felt while waiting to enter the courtroom. I’ve been in dozens of courtrooms—including the Supreme Court—but the overwhelming feeling of joy and pride in being admitted to the Court differed from all my other professional accomplishments. To maintain my composure, I focused on the ornate blue detailing on the ceiling before it was time to move to the courtroom.

Before entering the courtroom, admittees must line up alphabetically according to their first jurisdiction of admission (New York for me), which took a little longer than expected. After all the admittees were set in order, we walked through the third and final set of security and were led to our designated seats in the courtroom—in the box behind the counsel tables, square in the middle of the courtroom.

Being a Thursday in June, the courtroom was packed with people anxious to hear what decisions would be handed down. I was anxious to fulfill a lifelong dream. We took our seats, and less than five minutes later, the Court was called into session. The Justices took their seats, with Chief Justice Roberts in the center and the others flanking him to the right and left by seniority, and the record was opened.

Chief Justice Roberts immediately said, “Justice Jackson has the opinion of the Court,” and she began reading a prepared statement about a case for which she had written the majority opinion. When Justice Jackson was finished, Chief Justice Roberts said, “Justice Kagan has the next opinion.” Justice Kagan then read a prepared statement regarding the Jack Daniels copyright infringement case involving the use of its trademark bottle in the shape of a dog toy—even holding it up as she gave her remarks. Justice Sotomayor then followed with another opinion of the Court. Finally, Justice Roberts addressed the Court, delivering the Milligan decision.

Allen v. Milligan

Though not directly relevant to the tale of my admission to the Court, Milligan warrants attention. It is considered a historic win for voting rights, with the Supreme Court finding in favor of Black voters and affirming the district court’s order striking down Alabama’s 2021-enacted congressional map. The Court found that the map violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by diluting Black political power and ordered Alabama to redraw its congressional map. The Milligan decision stood on precedent that was 40 years old, and most legal experts expected it to be struck down.

As Justice Roberts was reading the opinion striking down the congressional map, I realized that a case I had been a team member of for more than a year was impacted. Our firm, in partnership with the ACLU, Legal Defense Fund, and NAACP, filed a similar challenge to a voting map in Louisiana—and we had been stayed pending the outcome of Milligan. To say that this was an “ultimate legal nerd” moment would be underselling it. It was one of those “can’t eat, can’t sleep, reach for the stars, over the fence, World Series” kind of things—a once-in-a-lifetime moment on a once-in-a-lifetime day.

The Swearing In

What happened when Chief Justice Roberts ended his summary of the opinion and moved to the swearing-in is hazy in my mind because it felt like an out-of-body experience. The Supreme Court Clerk began requesting that the names of admittees be read. Several groups were admitted that day, with our group last. When it was our turn, the chair of the Senior Lawyers Division served as our movant and read off each of our names. Once all the names were called, the Supreme Court Clerk administered the oath, and the Chief Justice accepted our admission.

And at that moment, I became a member of the Supreme Court Bar, fulfilling a lifelong goal.