By Jeffrey Freedman
Preparing to be admitted to the Bar of the United States Supreme Court made me feel like a kid again — a 13-year-old getting ready for his bar mitzvah. There were rules to be learned and followed, all of which led to a new sense of respect for the institution that is our Supreme Court.
After I went through the rules, found two friends who were already members of the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court to sponsor me, filed paperwork certifying that I am of good moral and professional character, and paid the $200 fee, I was ready to go.
Soon after my application was submitted, I was notified I would be sworn in on April 24, and that my guest and I (my wife, Barbara Hamilton) should arrive at security by 8 a.m.
We made sure we were in accordance with all of the restrictions — no sunglasses, no cellphones. I found it ironic that the very next day, Justice Stephen Breyer’s phone rang during an oral argument. Apparently, though, it caused a few chuckles among the normally stoic justices.
After a stop to check our overcoats and phones, Barbara and I went through the large oak doors leading to what is probably one of the most impressive rooms housing government offices of the United States. The ceiling rises to 44 feet. Looking around the room, there are 24 marble plinths supporting busts of all of the former chief justices of the court and an imposing raised mahogany bench, from which the justices hand down the most important rulings in our land.
At 10 a.m. my sponsor rose and stepped to the podium to make a motion I be admitted to the Bar. Chief Justice John Roberts granted the motion for my admittance to the court.
Afterward, we listened to an oral argument involving the relationship between mental health and the death sentence. It was amazing to watch the litigators, who were extremely skillful in their arguments, and to hear the questions of the Supreme Court justices.
I was sitting just three seats away from the press table, near Nina Totenberg of NPR and Robert Barnes from the Washington Post.
Membership does have its privileges. I can now bypass the security line for the general public; enter the Lawyer’s Lounge, the Library of the Supreme Court and the Great Hall (where the history of the court is exhibited); listen to oral arguments; and sponsor other attorneys.
For me, however, the experience of sitting in the room where so many critically important decisions – decisions that have personally affected the lives of countless Americans over the last couple of centuries – was awe-inspiring.
I have practiced law for 40 years, but the likelihood of me ever arguing a case before the Supreme Court is beyond slim to none.
Nonetheless, being admitted to the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court was a moving and enlightening experience, reinforcing my faith in the checks and balances of our government.
I would highly recommend young lawyers go through the process early. In times when it is easy to become cynical, we should take every opportunity we can to go back to the way we were in our youth – a little impressionable and a little bit awestruck.