A group of openly identified gay lawyers was sworn into the U.S. Supreme Court bar at a court session earlier this month, an apparent first.
The 30 lawyers sworn in on January 22 were members of the National LGBT Bar Association and were identified as such by court clerk William Suter in announcing their group admission to the court.
Paul Smith, chairman of Jenner & Block’s appellate and Supreme Court practice, made the motion to have the group admitted, and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. granted the motion, as he did for other groups of lawyers—from women’s bar and military lawyer groups—that morning. Court artist Art Lien captured the moment with a sketch.
“A lot of us wanted to applaud,” said association executive director D’Arcy Kemnitz. While gay lawyers have argued at the court and been admitted to the bar individually for years, Kemnitz said, “we feel confident” that the ceremony marked the first time that a group whose name identified them as such was sworn in.
The court does not keep records that could verify or disprove the claim, but longtime court-watchers could not recall anything similar happening before.
“We think we’ve arrived,” said Kemnitz, adding that the association was celebrating its 25th anniversary. The milestone was also significant, she said, because of the upcoming arguments in cases involving same-sex marriage.
“We didn’t do this before Lawrence v. Texas,” Kemnitz said, referring to the 2003 case that struck down state sodomy laws. In many states at that time, she explained, homosexual activity still violated criminal laws.
Jenner’s Smith, who argued and won the Lawrence case, said the bar admission ceremony was a notable first that sent the message that “here is a group of openly gay lawyers.”
After the court session adjourned, the group had a reception in the court’s east conference room that included family members. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited briefly, also stopping in at receptions in other rooms for the other groups sworn in that day.
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