On May 28, 2019, in Washington, D.C., 24 Santa Clara Law alumni were admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. Retired Justice Edward A. Panelli BS ’53, JD ’55 was the movant who presented the group, by individual names, for admission to the court to Chief Justice John Roberts. Another justice present on Monday’s bench observing alumni admissions was Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
During the reception afterward, Justice Ginsburg shared some fascinating history. She pointed to the photo of Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase on the wall and said that he was one of the judges who voted in the minority in a 6-3 decision by the court in 1872 that denied Belva Lockwood admission to the Supreme Court bar. Ms. Lockwood met all the application requirements to be a member of the Supreme Court Bar except that she was a woman. This decision upheld the denial of her membership in the Supreme Court bar based solely on her being a woman.
Ms. Lockwood did not give up and lobbied Congress three separate times to change the U.S. Supreme Court admissions rules to allow a woman into the Supreme Court Bar. Finally, the legislature agreed with Ms. Lockwood and changed the admissions policy for the Supreme Court to allow women. Ms. Lockwood was the first woman sworn into the Supreme Court bar on March 3, 1879.
Justice Ginsberg comment to the group was this goes to show that “sometimes the legislature does know more than the court.”
Chief Justice Roberts stated that the oath spoken by alumni was the same oath that the very first member of the bar, Elias Boudinot, took and that all members since have taken. Elias Boudinot held bar card #1. Elias Boudinot was from New Jersey and was admitted to practice in February 1790.
Illustration credit: Emily Meghan Morrow Howe