Admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States Bar - by Daniel L. O’Neil

by News Editor
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on 07 March 2016
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Tax controversy and civil rights are largely federal issues so a familiarity with federal courts is important. I had already been admitted in the United States Tax Court, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, the United States District & Bankruptcy Courts for the Southern District of Texas, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit years ago. 

This morning I received my notification from the Clerk that effective February 29, 2016 I am a member of the Bar of the Court and an officer of the Court of the Supreme Court of the United States! My AP Government teacher from high school, Mr. Henderson – the coolest man in suspenders ever – would be proud.

What is involved in joining the Supreme Court bar? A $200 one-time fee, an application, having at least three years under your belt as a member in good standing of a state bar, securing a favorable certificate of good standing from the Clerk of the Texas Supreme Court if you are a Texas lawyer, and finding two SCOTUS bar members to sign your application that know you but are not related to you.

My favorite quote about SCOTUS bar membership comes from Gigi Sohn: "It's just an indicator of being at the top of your profession. I know it's very superficial," she said, adding it still makes her feel proud to be part of an institution that's so important to American democracy.

What are the benefits of being a U.S. Supreme Court bar member?

  1. If you go to oral arguments in D.C. you get preferential seating – members of the SCOTUS bar are seated apart from members of the general public.
  2. Rather than signing on to an amicus or litigant brief as the tail end of the party of names, you can file and sign as lead lawyer.
  3. If your case ever gets there, you can actually argue the case.
  4. From a more practical standpoint, it is not completely easy for every lawyer to find two SCOTUS bar members that know you and are not related to you to sponsor your application then move for your admission to the bar. Historically, many of the white shoe firms had a privileged tight grip on this elite bar membership and were not willing to extend their hand across the civil rights aisle to the GLBTI, QPoC, other communities, and their supportive allies trying to follow the lead of Atticus Finch as honorable, visible community voices. The more diverse the SCOTUS bar membership is these days the better for everyone – for the civil rights battles still left to be waged, for equality, and for beginning to equalize opportunities after a very long period of historical inequity and lack of access to community resources and infrastructure.
  5. So I was greatly honored that two of the most preeminent local GLBTI civil rights lawyers, activists, and Houston (and beyond) legal legends were the two SCOTUS bar members that sponsored my application: John Nechman and Phyllis Frye.
  6. And the last great thing about SCOTUS bar membership is that the certificate prominently shows the name of the SCOTUS bar member that moved for my admission, which is really cool since she is a lawyer and a judge that I know and particularly admire. This adds a really nice touch to the bar admission since it is part of the historical legacy that Phyllis started building decades ago and allowed me to become a part of as one of her partners at Frye, Oaks, Benavidez & O’Neil, PLLC where we continue to be your go-to law firm for the GLBTI community and their supportive allies.

If you are an experienced lawyer (in good standing with your state bar) having trouble finding a sponsor for your application to the SCOTUS bar because of your community activism with Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, trans* advocacy, #FeelTheBern, or another important civil rights movement for the GLBTI community and their supportive allies then let’s get to know each other – that is the kind of diversity I would like to endorse within the membership of the SCOTUS bar.


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