Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. swears in D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia Millett.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. swears in D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia Millett. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ NLJ)

Two members of the U.S. Supreme Court were on hand this afternoon to formally bid farewell to Patricia Millett, a longtime high court advocate who was recently confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. said that while Millett’s swearing in Friday afternoon marked a “happy day” for her friends and family, the D.C. Circuit and the United States, it was not completely happy for Roberts and his fellow justices, who looked forward to hearing Millett argue.

“We on the Supreme Court are losing a great advocate,” said Roberts, who administered the oath of office. Justice Elena Kagan was also in attendance.

Millett, the former co-leader of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s appellate and Supreme Court practice, was one of three D.C. Circuit judges recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate after Democrats pushed through filibuster reform in November over Republican opposition.

Today’s ceremony marked Millett’s formal swearing in. She was confirmed in December and heard her first oral arguments earlier this week.

Millett said she was “overwhelmed” by today’s ceremonies and the series of events that led to her appointment. She pointed out that she couldn’t get a clerkship on the D.C. Circuit when she was just out of law school.

Acknowledging the Senate fight over her nomination and the nominations of the two other judges confirmed to the D.C. Circuit around the same time, Cornelia Pillard and Robert Wilkins, she said, “Whew. What an adventure it was.” She thanked the senators, U.S. Department of Justice staff, friends, and colleagues at Akin who supported her during the confirmation process.

She said that while the American system of government might be “messy” sometimes, she was grateful for the constitutional process.

Millett’s former colleagues from the Justice Department and from private practice praised her skills as an advocate and a writer, and spoke about her compassion, sense of humor and dedication to her family.

With Millett now on the bench, Seth Waxman, the head of the appellate and Supreme Court practice at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, had a message for members of the appellate bar: “Bring your A-game.” Waxman worked with Millett in the U.S. Solicitor General’s office.

Millett, Waxman said, is “a great, great advocate of our time and someone who promises to be an even greater judge.” Millett argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court.

Several speakers mentioned Millett’s accomplishments out of court, notably her second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland joked that he and his colleagues hoped Millett would rely on her oral advocacy skills, and not her physical prowess, when disagreements arose among the judges.

Stanford Law School Professor Pamela Karlan, currently on leave to serve as the deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said Millett would treat parties before her “with grace and with decency.” Karlan recalled Millett’s successful arguments before the Supreme Court on behalf of Somali victims of torture.

The current leader of Akin’s Supreme Court practice, partner Pratik Shah, and Millett’s cousin, Kristen Nelson, also spoke.

Millett is the 59th judge on the D.C. Circuit.

Contact Zoe Tillman at ztillman@alm.com. On Twitter: @zoetillman