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Friday, December 12, 2014

The Elite Supreme Court Bar

By Joan Biskupic, Janet Roberts and John Shiffman report at Reuters:
A Reuters examination of nine years of cases shows that 66 of the 17,000 lawyers who petitioned the Supreme Court succeeded at getting their clients’ appeals heard at a remarkable rate. Their appeals were at least six times more likely to be accepted by the court than were all others filed by private lawyers during that period.
Of the 66 most successful lawyers, 51 worked for law firms that primarily represented corporate interests. In cases pitting the interests of customers, employees or other individuals against those of companies, a leading attorney was three times more likely to launch an appeal for business than for an individual, Reuters found.
Although the Supreme Court is the most diverse it has ever been – three of the nine justices are women and two are minorities – the elite bar is strikingly homogeneous: Of the 66 top lawyers, 63 are white. Only eight are women.
It’s also a self-replicating group of insiders, many of whom previously held positions that offer them deep insight into how the court operates. Among the 66 leading lawyers, 31 worked as a clerk for a Supreme Court justice; in that role, they wrote memos for the justices that summarized petitions and highlighted cases that might be worth hearing. Twenty-five worked in top posts in the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General, whose lawyers represent the federal government before the court.
Shiffman reports:
Advocacy groups have long played an important role in Supreme Court litigation, crafting amicus or “friend of the court” briefs in significant cases. The American Civil Liberties Union and consumer-oriented Public Citizen regularly make such filings.
But perhaps no other national advocacy organization has so embraced the trend toward Supreme Court specialization as the chief American business lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber has created the equivalent of a boutique law firm at its headquarters, one whose roster of talent now rivals some of Washington’s most elite practices.
Roberts, Biskupic and Shiffman report:
A Reuters analysis of high court records shows that a group of eight lawyers, all men, accounted for almost 20 percent of all the arguments made before the court by attorneys in private practice during the past decade.

In the decade before, 30 attorneys accounted for that same share.

In this ever more intimate circle, lawyers say, chemistry with the court is key. The October case was a milestone for the 48-year-old Clement: It marked the 75th time he had appeared before the high court, second most among active lawyers in private practice. The following week, at a party celebrating the feat, veteran attorney Lisa Blatt toasted Clement’s success.

“The justices love Paul,” Blatt declared. “They visibly relax when Paul stands up and they are smiling when he sits down.”