The four-year absence of U.S. Supreme Court justices on the law school commencement circuit is over.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is slated to deliver New York Law School’s June 1 commencement address at Carnegie Hall—the first time since 2014 that a member of the high court has taken on graduation duties at a law school.
The recent Supreme Court graduation speaker drought is somewhat unusual. In the years prior, one or two law schools had justices lined up for commencement. (The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was the last to headline a law graduation, speaking at the College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law.)
“Justice Breyer is keenly attuned to the interconnected, global landscape today’s lawyers inhabit,” said New York Law School Dean Anthony Crowell in an announcement of Breyer’s commencement appearance. “I know that our graduates will benefit immensely from Justice Breyer’s broad perspective, his longtime commitment to civic engagement, and his deep concern for how the law impacts people’s everyday lives in all nations.”
Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor’s recent shoulder injury threw a wrench in commencement plans at the University of California, Davis, School of Law. She was slated to speak at the school’s May 19 ceremony but had to cancel last month after doctors warned her not to fly, said Dean Kevin Johnson in an interview. Sotomayor on Tuesday underwent reverse total shoulder replacement surgery after falling in her home April 16.
Johnson said finding a replacement was a delicate task because the school didn’t want candidates to feel “like they weren’t the first-round draft choice.”
California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Davis law alum who is attending the ceremony because her niece is graduating from the law school, has agreed to speak.
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Elsewhere in the country, law schools have secured some traditional commencement speakers from the legal profession, as well as a few wild cards.
Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, regains his title as the busiest speaker. He is delivering graduation remarks at the University of Pennsylvania Law School; Syracuse University College of Law; and St. John’s University School of Law. Bharara also pulled triple duty in 2015.
Harvard Law School has secured retiring Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, to be its class day speaker.
The University of California, Irvine School of Law has lined up Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll partner Kalpana Kotagal, co-author of the “inclusion rider” referenced by actress Frances McDormand in her Academy Award acceptance speech in February.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is on tap to address graduates of Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law on May 11. (Don’t expect any insights on the Mueller investigation.)
A few law schools have graduation speakers who illustrate the versatility of a law degree.
The University of Michigan Law School has Glynn Washington, host and producer of the popular NPR podcast “Snap Judgment.” Washington graduated from the Ann Arbor law school in 1996.
ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas will address graduates of the University of North Carolina School of Law on May 12. Bilas graduated from Duke University School of Law in 1992 and maintains a foothold in the law as of counsel at Moore & Van Allen.