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A Supreme Experience

By Lauren Karch

Thirty-three alumni and friends of the University of Dayton School of Law were presented for admission into the Supreme Court Bar, in a ceremony that concluded with a meeting and comments from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The swearing-in ceremony occurred on April 29 after a breakfast in the Supreme Court’s formal East Conference Room.

“The East Conference Room is where the court holds their press conferences, and just being in the room was very impressive,” said Colleen Leahy, Director of Law School Alumni and Constituent Relations and one of the coordinators of the event. “It’s a really beautiful, ornate room with oil paintings of the original chief justices.”

During the swearing-in itself, Dean Andrew Strauss made a motion before the Supreme Court to accept the new members of the bar. Each of UDSL’s 33 alumni and friends stood, then took the oath of admission before the seven Justices present.

“It was exhilarating,” said Cindy Oppenheimer Bishop, an attorney and mediator practicing in Merritt Island, Florida who had her daughter, Liana, along as her guest. “The experience was even more amazing than the expectation.”

After the ceremony, the newly-admitted bar members retired to the East Conference room, and were joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“She was incredibly gracious. She asked if we had any questions, and we were all so stunned that she was there that we couldn’t come up with any,” said Linn Harson, Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer at Crown Equipment Corporation in New Bremen.

Strauss presented Ginsburg with a gift from UDSL's Ruth Bader Ginsburg Society, a student organization that focuses on public interest and civil rights law.  The gift included a photo of the UDSL chapter and a personal note from its members, along with a T-shirt, which Ginsburg quipped would soon go into her workout gear rotation.

Harson called the experience of being in the Supreme Court “very powerful.”

“You practice law for so many years and you can forget the power of the Supreme Court and what all of that means historically,” Harson said. “It was very moving.”

Jacqueline Gaines is a magistrate with the Montgomery County Domestic Relations Court, and taught UDSL’s Family Law Practice course last fall. She also tutors and grades practice essays through the Road to Bar Passage program.

She noted that, in addition to the ability to represent clients in the highest court in the land, the newly-admitted lawyers have access to the Supreme Court’s library and are permitted to sit in the reserved attorney seats in the Supreme Court.

“It was an important milestone in my career to be admitted to the United States Supreme Court,” she said.

UDSL participates in the admission ceremony on alternating years; the last admissions ceremony occurred in 2017.

In addition to serving as an organizer for the ceremony, Leahy was admitted to the bar this year, as was her husband, Kevin, another UDSL alum.

“It really is quite the experience to be sitting in the courtroom and giving the oath to uphold the law in the highest court,” she said.

The group presented by the University of Dayton included alumni from Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.

“We were by far the largest of the groups being sworn in there, which is really cool for Dayton,” Harson said. “Having 33 alumni and friends there; it was great to talk to lawyers from UD of all different ages and working in all different areas of law.”

Reed Haywood, a litigator for firm Palmer and Barr in Philadelphia, was glad to have his two sons, a high school senior and college freshman, as guests for the ceremony.

“One of our pictures from the day is of my younger son giving the thumbs up behind Justice Ginsburg,” he said. ”It was amazing for both of them to be able to meet one of the Justices in their first visit to the Supreme Court.”

Haywood called the experience of visiting the Supreme Court very powerful, especially from a historical perspective.

“Seeing that building and all that it stands for, being in the courtroom, being before the Justices, and thinking about the legal history which has come out of that building was awe-inspiring,” he said. “The history-buff side is pretty amazing. I wanted to be there and be a part of history as a member of the bar.”

Gaines agreed, and pointed out another Ohio connection.

“I really enjoyed learning about the history and traditions of the Court,” Gaines said. “I was impressed to learn that Justice John McLean of Ohio wrote a powerful dissent in the Dred Scott decision in 1857, and much of the language in his dissent was used in the Fourteenth Amendment.”

“At the end of the ceremony, Chief Justice John Roberts looked at us and said, ‘Welcome to the club,’”

Bishop said. “I’ve practiced law for nearly 35 years, so this was like the culmination of 35 years of work for me. My husband Larry was in the military, so we’ve moved frequently. I ended up taking the bar exam in five different states, and UD prepared me for that academically. The University of Dayton prepared me not just for this moment, but for a lifetime of working as a litigator.”
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