Thursday, October 1, 2015

First Monday in October: Dos and Don'ts

Monday, October 5 marks the start of the U.S. Supreme Court's October Term 2015. Since 1916, the "first Monday in October" has been the official kick-off of Supreme Court arguments for a particular term, as outlined in 28 U.S.C. § 2. Although the last OT2014 opinions were handed down in late June, the Court doesn't exactly kick back for a lengthy summer vacation: justices have been hard at work behind the scenes this summer reviewing new petitions for certiorari.

There are already forty cases on the docket for this term (listed with brief descriptions at SCOTUSblog); the Court continues to add new cases to the term, with thirteen petitions granted just today. The cases already scheduled for oral argument can be viewed at the Supreme Court's Argument Calendars page. First in line this year is OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs, concerning the definitions of "agent" of a "foreign state" under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The SCOTUSblog case file contains a summary of previous case activity and links to the full text of the petition and briefs.

What does it take for an attorney to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court? SCOTUS maintains a bar admission process for attorneys who wish to argue before it. Although some have derided the $200 resume booster as a "vanity" credential for most attorneys who join, others highlight the perks of admission to this club, such as prime seating for other Supreme Court arguments.

For those Supreme Court bar members who do actually appear before the Court, the SCOTUS website provides Guides to Counsel with the inside scoop about oral arguments and other Court procedures and etiquette. For example:
  • DON'T walk up the front steps to the Court on argument day: there's a separate entrance for counsel, and arguing counsel can even cut in the line.
  • DO steal the pens: "The quill pens at counsel are gifts to you – a souvenir of your having argued before the highest Court in the land. Take them with you. They are handcrafted and usable as writing quills."
  • DON'T bring a legal pad to the lectern: it won’t fit. The Court recommends a single notebook instead: "Turning pages in a notebook appears more professional than flipping pages of a legal pad."
  • DO look toward the light: the Marshal will alert you to 5 minutes left of your argument time with a white light. A red light means time's up.
  • DON'T get too cute with the justices by cracking jokes: "Attempts at humor usually fall flat."
More detail about the work of a Supreme Court litigator can be found in the seminal treatise Supreme Court Practice, 10th edition (KF9057 .S8 2013 & online in Bloomberg Law: Search & Browse > Books & Treatises > Bloomberg BNA). This guide, it should be noted, doesn't say a word about the quill pen souvenirs (although it does warn about the legal-sized pads).

For more information about the U.S. Supreme Court's upcoming term, check out SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court website, and the Goodson Law Library's research guide to the U.S. Supreme Court.