May 15, 2009

Fifteen to take oath to join U.S. Supreme Court bar

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- For several faculty members and Southern Illinois University School of Law alumni, Monday, May 18, will not be another ordinary day in their respective legal careers.

A group of 15 current, former or retired Salukis will take the oath to become members of the U.S. Supreme Court bar and become eligible to present written briefs and argue cases before the nation’s highest court.

The group includes Dean Peter C. Alexander, current faculty Paul E. McGreal and Alice Noble-Allgire; former law teachers B. Taylor Mattis, who lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Wenona Y. Whitfield, currently a visiting professor at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Fla.; Yvonne M. Spencer, director of deferred gifts and planned giving; and Judi Ray, constituent development officer with the SIU Foundation.

Other law school alumni taking the oath include Dan O’Brien, Carlinville; Daryl Jones, Chicago; Matt Guzman, Joliet; Roger Holland and David Rumley, Urbana; Tambra Cain, Vienna; Carole Wesenberg, Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Tracy Wilkinsen, Winnabow, N.C.

Elizabeth O’Neil, the law school’s director of alumni affairs and annual giving, started the process for the swearing-in ceremony nearly two years ago. According to Supreme Court guidelines, applicants must: have a certificate of good standing from the presiding judge, clerk, or other authorized official of the high court of their respective states; be admitted to practice for a period of three years before the application date; and not be subject to any disciplinary action during that time. Each applicant is required to have endorsements of two members of the Supreme Court bar.

James H. Lesar, a son of law school founding Dean Hiram H. Lesar, is a Supreme Court bar member, and will make the motion to admit the group. Individual sponsors include law school faculty William A. Schroeder, Rebecca J. O’Neill, Leonard Gross and Sheila Simon.

Lesar, a Washington, D.C., attorney who specializes in Freedom of Information Act-related litigation in federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals, said it’s an honor to present the group for inclusion in the bar. Lesar has appeared before four of the current Supreme Court associate justices when they presided over cases in lower courts -- Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

“It is very special,” Alexander said. “It will once again tie the present and the future of the law school to its past. To have a member of the Lesar family make the motion is very exciting.”

Alexander notes it is highly unlikely that most people will ultimately make arguments and appear before the court. But that does not take away from the significance, he said.

“It’s still an exciting opportunity to be in the court, and it’s a great honor to be admitted to the highest court in our land,” he said. “It’s going to be a great day for our alumni and friends. It will be a great day for the law school.”

While the court is finished with hearing oral arguments for this term, its calendar shows it is in session Monday. It is unknown which of the justices will preside over the swearing-in ceremonies.

The event will coincide with a two-hour continuing legal education class McGreal will teach, which will be an update on the Supreme Court and a review of recent developments on cases the court has decided over the last two years. The class and an evening reception are set for later in the day at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

McGreal’s classes include constitutional law, the First Amendment, and religion and law. He spent a total of five days last summer reviewing a portion of the papers of the late Harry A. Blackmun, an associate justice with the court from 1970 to 1994. Blackmun, a native of Nashville, Ill, died in 1999 at the age of 90. He was in the forefront of the nation’s legal decisions for more than 20 years, and authored the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade majority decision on abortion rights.

McGreal has participated in the collaboration of three amicus curia, or friend of the court briefs, during his legal career, but never as a lead counsel, due to Supreme Court rules. McGreal said he has been to Washington, D.C., several times but never at the Supreme Court while it is in session. The opportunity to meet with one ore more of the justices, who write the constitutional law, is exciting, he said.