U.S. Supreme Court bar swearing-in ceremony a family affair for alumni

Group photo of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg meeting Wake Forest Law alumni following their SCOTUS swearing-in ceremony.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg meets with Wake Forest Law alumni following their SCOTUS swearing-in ceremony on March 9.

It is silent, save for the tick tock of the clock that hangs above the imposing bench and the shuffling feet of visitors as they are led into the courtroom. Marble columns and thick, red velvet curtains line the room that is surprisingly small considering the enormity of the decisions that are rendered here.

At precisely 10 o’clock — not 9:59, not 10:01 — the clerk orders everyone to stand and the justices file in and take their assigned high-back leather seats. On a non-oral argument day, such as it was Monday, March 9, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. calls the court to order and two decisions are read. Only six of the nine justices are present. Then the clerk invites representatives of several law schools and their alumni to come forward and present the candidates for admission into the bar of the highest court in the nation. Once all of the candidates names have been presented, they stand in unison and take the oath to become an official member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar.

“I do solemnly swear that as an attorney and as a counselor of this Court, I will conduct myself uprightly and according to law, and that I will support the Constitution of the United States.”

At 10:15 a.m., everyone is required to stand again as the high court is dismissed, the justices disappear behind their respective curtains and the newest crop of Supreme Court bar members file out along with family and friends in attendance for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They head back to the breakfast room where they had gathered at 8 a.m. for coffee and pastries and wait hopefully for a photo-op and a brief chat with one or more of the justices, who make the rounds to various rooms. On this particular day, Chief Justice Roberts as well as Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited with Wake Forest Law alumni and their families and friends.

“None of us will forget our chats with the justices,” says Interim Dean Suzanne Reynolds (’77).  “Chief Justice Roberts obviously has a soft spot for Wake Forest Law school.  He beamed as he announced us in the swearing-in ceremony and again as he joined us in the reception among the portraits of justices from other centuries.  Justice Sonia Sotomayor joked with us as we gathered for our group shot.  Wake Forest Law school has the deepest connections with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had a better memory than any of us about the details of her visits to Wake Forest, to our summer study abroad programs in Venice and Vienna, and to a celebration of women in the judiciary in Asheville for the North Carolina Bar Association.  I have had the great good fortune to join her on most of those visits.”

Wake Forest Law alumni have repeated the experience each year for the past 20.

The most recent group saw 23 sworn in to the court, including a father and his daughter as well as six members of The Rose Council, the law school’s young alumni board named for Professor Charley Rose, one of the school’s most beloved professors. Dean Emeritus Robert Walsh, already a member of the SCOTUS Bar, presented the group to Chief Justice Roberts.

While some never intend to argue in front of the court, others say it’s nice to have the option in their back pocket and their law firms agree.

The newest Wake Forest Law admittees are: Aubrey Gordon (‘07), Chris Sanders (’08), Douglas Ansel (‘11), Mike Young (’93), Jessie Cohan (‘06), Amy Holbrook (’06, JD ’09), Mike Miller (MBA ’75, JD ’78), Jerry Eagle (’65), Reid Acree (’82, JD ’89), Roger Smith (’11), James Brennan (’03), John Cilley (’85), Bonnie Martin (’97), Robert Grant (’71, JD ’74), Ashleigh Wilson (’11), Shana Hurt (’95, JD ’99), Chris Jackson (’11), Marc Langston (’11), Rich McPherson (’10), Stephen Coles (’77, JD ’80), Zaneta Robinson (’03), Kathleen Maloney (’04) and Brandon Barnes (’09).

Eagle, who calls Summerfield, N.C., home, is Hurt’s father. He retired from his position as general counsel for Jefferson Pilot after 30 years in 1993. But he didn’t stop working. Instead, Eagle did pro bono work for the Legal Aid office in Greensboro a few days a week until 2008.  On the 50th anniversary of his graduation from law school, his daughter thought being sworn into the Supreme Court bar would be a fitting topper to her father’s long and successful career. Hurt, who lives in Kernersville, N.C., followed her father’s lead and has been counsel for Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust in Winston-Salem for the past 13 years. She says a summer internship with CNN working with a reporter who covers SCOTUS sparked her interest in the high court. “I thought the announcement of opinions was fascinating,” she explained. “Some of my friends who have been sworn into the Supreme Court bar suggested I do, and I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate my dad’s 75 birthday this year.”

Both added they were thankful to Wake Forest Law for giving them the opportunity to be part of the pomp and circumstance of the high court from the inside. Dean Reynolds had a similar experience.

“This year I watched in the gallery as 23 law alumni squeezed together in the bare wooden chairs packed tightly for maximum use of space,” Dean Reynolds added.  “As they rose according to their states, it struck me how the ceremony symbolized the Wake Forest Law alumni experience – a tight group of lawyers spread across the country, bound by close ties emanating from the beloved school of their legal education.”

Cohan, who lives in Atlanta, says she was skeptical at first about being sworn in to the Supreme Court. A Rose Council member, Cohan said the main reason she decided to apply for bar admission was because she had a council meeting in D.C. at the same time. “I’m a trusts and estates/tax lawyer, so I can pretty much guarantee that I will never (and I will never want to) argue in front of the Supreme Court. But now having done it, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I think Shauna (Barnes) summed it up best, right after I shook hands with Justice Sotomayor. She said, ‘and this is why you did it.’ She was completely right.”

Shauna Barnes, general counsel for Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware, enjoyed her swearing-in ceremony so much that her husband Brandon Barnes, who accompanied her to last year’s swearing-in ceremony, chose to be sworn in on Monday so they could re-live the experience. Both members of the Rose Council, Brandon Barnes recently became Senior Litigation Analyst – Energy Sector for Bloomberg Intelligence.

To be eligible for the 2016 Supreme Court Bar ceremony with the Wake Forest School of Law, alumni must meet the following requirements:

  • Applicants 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 three-year period; and must appear to the Court to be of good moral and professional character.
  • Applicants must obtain a “certificate of good standing” from the presiding judge, clerk, or other authorized official of the highest court of a State, Commonwealth, Territory or Possession, or of the District of Columbia.
  • Applicants will be required to pay a fee of $200, payable to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alumni interested in participating in the 2016 Supreme Court Trip, please contact Karleigh King at kingkj@wfu.edu or (336) 758-5800.