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Meet the Lawyers Who Control the Supreme Court

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 06, 2015 11:57 AM

As a child, you might have dreamed of arguing before the Supreme Court, swaying The Nine to the side of justice, righteousness, equity. Then you went to law school, started to practice and, well -- things change. Most solo practitioners and small firm attorneys gave up on Supreme Court dreams a while back. Now, you probably dream of clients who pay on time or landing an in-house gig.

You were right to abandon those dreams. No one argues before the Supreme Court, except, a Reuters report shows, a tiny handful of well-connected lawyers.

Forget The Nine, it's These Sixty-Six Who Matter

How tiny is tiny? Very, very tiny. Last year, Reuters looked at nine years of cert petitions and found that just 66 lawyers routinely make it before the Supreme Court. That's 66 lawyers out of 17,000 -- or a success rate of about one third of one percent. Those attorneys are involved in almost half the Court's cases. The magical 66 lawyers were also six times as likely to have their cert petitions accepted than your average, plain Jane lawyer.

(Yes, those numbers are dangerously close to 666, so this is probably a sign that the Court is controlled by lizard people.)

Who are these 66, possibly Illuminati lawyers? Here's an overview, based on Reuters' investigation. (Disclosure: Reuters is FindLaw's sister company.) The 66 are:

  • Primarily corporate lawyers: fifty-five of them work for Big Law firms specializing in representing corporate client;
  • Less diverse than the Justices: sixty-three of the 66 are white, only eight are women;
  • No stranger to the Supreme Court: almost half worked as SCOTUS clerks;
  • Former government workers: 25 worked in the Office of the Solicitor General

If you're a Court-watcher, you can probably recognize plenty of their names. The 66 include well-known lawyers such as Neal Katyal, Thomas Goldstein, and Amy Howe, though you'll have to go to Reuters for the full list.

Is There a Problem Here?

Besides the occult aspect, is it bad for the Supreme Court, for justice, or for other lawyers that an elite 66 attorneys have so much influence? Perhaps. Michael Luttig, general counsel for Boeing, describes the lawyers as "a guild, a narrow group of elite justices and elite counsel talking to each other." That makes them "detached and isolated from the real world, ultimately at the price of the healthy and proper development of the law," he tells Reuters. Since the group's primary clients are corporate interests, there are less elite lawyers available to argue on behalf of the public and consumers, Reuters found.

Of course, those claiming that the Court has been taken over by corporate interests might be relieved to know that the 66 lawyers have a distinctly liberal bent, at least when it comes to criminal law and social issues. That was made very apparent when advocates of gay marriage bans struggled desperately to find an experienced lawyer who would represent their side in court.

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