I found out on Tuesday that I am on track to be admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States. The ceremony should take place on June 10th in DC. I am kind of excited. My husband is super excited. My mother in law has claimed bragging rights.
Attorneys don’t automatically get admitted to practice in different courts. For example, very few qui tam attorneys are admitted to practice before the US Tax Court, and I am one of very, very few attorneys who have argued before the court on behalf of an IRS whistleblower. To get admitted to the Tax Court, I had to formally apply, go through the review process, pay fees, etc. A qui tam attorney doesn’t have to be admitted to the Tax Court to properly represent a whistleblower in an IRS action, but I like to be prepared. Who needs the complication of a last minute court admission process when you are under deadline to file an appeal of an IRS decision regarding your whistleblower’s claim?
In part, the same thinking is what motivated me to apply to SCOTUS. In larger part, I just want admission because I would love to have some sort of access to the Justices, even if it’s only symbolic. Does Justice Alito really believe that a response to a FOIA request is the same as an administrative investigation of a false claim against the government? And exactly which Justices are into the originalist interpretation of the Constitution thing? Scalia, sure, but Thomas? Really??? I would love to know….
No worries that I will embarrass anyone with awkward questions. If the ceremony is like all of the other ceremonies for admissions to court, then I will be standing in a group, taking an oath with about fifty colleagues, and looking at the Justices from across a court room. My kind sponsors, who have been through the process, tell me that the Justices don’t engage with us one on one, which is simultaneously disappointing and comforting. One of my pals reminds me the Supreme Court is highly ritualized. Bells ring at specific times; certain words are spoken, and the clerk of the Court is all consumed with making sure everything happens in accord with tradition and ritual. That all makes sense; nothing should distract the Justices and counsel from figuring out what to do about some knotty legal conundrum. I admit I am glad everything is tightly scripted. I just want to enjoy the day, and it will be easier if I don’t have to think too much about the ceremony itself.
The occasion is a landmark of sorts for any attorney, but particularly for me. I am not one of those people whose pedigree demands a law degree. I went to law school partly in self-defense, and partly because I found attorneys to be priggish and snotty about the law and about their obligations in society. When I was blowing the whistle, attorneys told me I was mistaken about my impressions of misconduct, and the law was just too complicated for me to understand; the complained of behavior was really okay, and because I had no formal legal training, my complaints were, well, dumb. I was thrilled about having the opportunity to go to law school because I really, really wanted to know what the attorneys were talking about. Every day, in law school, I examined my own whistleblowing situation. Was I right about the misconduct? Did I have a legal claim? What did I do wrong? What did I do right? What should I have done differently?
Turns out, my complaints about misconduct were right on target, but the legal theories I used to protect myself didn’t work then and likely wouldn’t work to protect a similarly situated whistleblower today. It’s humbling to realize that law schools, even good ones, only teach lawyers to pass the bar exam. Consequently, many attorneys never hear about qui tam law. Most attorneys will still reach for tired old wrongful termination theories to attempt to compensate a whistleblower for some terrible act of retaliation. It’s astounding how many whistleblowers look to wrongful termination law for help when one reviews the outcome of those suits. Those cases work for employers, and they can really be tough on whistleblowers. I still wince when I read wrongful termination rulings. The feds aren’t much help. SOX is a brutal disappointment, and DOL rulings against whistleblowers look like they came from some fill in the blank MS Word template, used over and over again. Even my favorite statute, the False Claims Act, has its ups and downs. I got a little misty eyed with frustration when I read the Supreme Court’s rulings on FOIA and the FCA in the last few years. And I guess that illustrates the difference between my mother in law’s view of the SCOTUS admission and mine. She believes the SCOTUS admission signifies some great intellectual feat on my part. She believes the law is encyclopedic and fixed; I know it’s not. It’s a battlefield. I have mixed feelings about admission.
In any event, I intend to enjoy myself on June 10th. My hubs is going to watch the ceremony; there is a champagne lunch afterwards. Two of the Justices showed at the lunch last year, so I might get a pic. I want to reflect a bit on where I’ve been and where the Court’s been, and where the Justices might be going. I want to wander over and see the painting of the apotheosis of George Washington. I suspect it will be a quiet, positive day. Kind of exciting…