Retired Justice John Paul Stevens
Retired Justice John Paul Stevens (Paul Efland)

Graduation season is upon us, and some law schools have snagged prominent legal figures to address the new crop of attorneys.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will deliver the commencement address at the College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law on May 11, while retired Justice John Paul Stevens will speak at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law on May 16.

Overall, however, the legal star power at this year’s ceremonies seems a bit dimmer than in years past. Several top law schools have yet to reveal their speakers, but it looks as though U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will sit out the graduation circuit this year. He spoke at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law last year and delivered one law school graduation address during each of the previous two years.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli will speak at both the University of North Carolina School of Law on May 10 and the University of New Hampshire School of Law on May 17. Verrilli spoke during three law school commencement ceremonies last year. At New Hampshire, he will receive an honorary law degree alongside former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole and Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of New York state.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is slated to receive an honorary degree from Fordham University, along with Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Chin will deliver the keynote speech at the Fordham University School of Law.

Graduates of Columbia Law School will hear from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison partner Roberta Kaplan, who successfully represented plaintiff Edith Windsor in her challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. Kaplan graduated from Columbia Law in 1991. In the same vein, attorneys Ted Olson and David Bois will speak at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. The duo led the legal charge against California’s Proposition 8, which barred same-sex marriage.

Harvard Law School graduates will hear from Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and television star Mindy Kaling during their class day on May 28. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez will address graduates at the University of Minnesota Law School.

Northwestern University School of Law has Sidley Austin chairman Carter Phillips on tap to speak during its May 16 graduation.

George Washington University Law School graduates will hear from Apple Inc. general counsel Bruce Sewell, while outgoing White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler will address University of Michigan Law School graduates. Lilly Ledbetter, whose legal challenge on behalf of women and minorities led to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, will speak during the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s May 18 graduation.

Most other law schools are going with the usual suspects: alumni lawyers, judges and elected officials. American University Washington College of Law went in an interesting direction with Judy Smith, an attorney who founded a crisis-communication firm and inspired the hit television show “Scandal.” Graduates of Stetson University College of Law will hear from New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak on May 17.

Not all law students have been pleased with their school’s selection for commencement speaker. Some students at Suffolk University Law School in Boston have opposed the decision to have Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman speak on May 17, citing his opposition to the construction of a community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site in New York City and to official U.S. recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide.

Similarly, some students at the University of California Hastings College of the Law are not pleased that Janet Napolitano, former U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary and sitting president of the University of California, will be their commencement speaker. A group called Hastings Students Against Napolitano formed to object to the department’s deportation policies during her tenure.

Contact Karen Sloan at For more of The National Law Journal’s law school coverage, visit: