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Deaf Lawyers to Get Supreme Court Swearing-In Ceremony

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 14, 2016 12:13 PM

Thirteen deaf and hard of hearing lawyers will be sworn in at the Supreme Court next week. The attorneys are members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association, a professional association of "deaf, hard of hearing, and late-deafened attorneys, judges, law school graduates, law students, and legal professionals."

And while Supreme Court swearing-in ceremonies are regular events, occurring just about every day the Court is in session, this will mark the first time a member of the DHHBA has joined the Supreme Court Bar. The Court is even relaxing its cell phone ban for the occasion.

A Swearing-In Complete With Sign Language and Cell Phones

In order to be admitted to the Supreme Court bar, and thus to argue cases before the Court, an attorney must have been a member of a state bar for three years and must be sponsored by two current Supreme Court bar members. (And they must have $200 to spare for the bar fee.)

Supreme Court swearing-in ceremonies are often somewhat "thematic." That is, attorneys typically are sworn in in large groups, often organized around an alumni association or professional organization. On April 19th, that group will be deaf and hard of hearing attorneys.

For the ceremony, the Court is bringing in sign language interpreters and even loosening its cellphone ban. The attorneys will be allowed to bring their phones along in order to receive real-time captioning of the ceremony. (Use of cellphones for any other purpose remains forbidden, however.)

Diversifying the Supreme Court Bar

Anat Maytal, President of the DHHBA and an associate at Baker Hostetler, said in a statement that "We are truly honored to be admitted to the Supreme Court Bar. Our admission sets a precedent that will hopefully encourage others with disabilities to pursue a legal career and view the legal profession as being open to diverse backgrounds."

"We wanted to do an event that would help break down stereotypes and demonstrate clearly that deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals can achieve anything they set their minds to," she told ABC News.

Maytal will be sworn in with 12 of her colleagues, but they won't be the first deaf attorneys in the Supreme Court bar.

Deaf lawyers have argued in the Supreme Court twice in the past, according to the National Law Journal, in 1982 and 2004. In the first case, over whether deaf students were entitled to interpreters in school, the deaf advocate, Michael A. Chatoff, lost.

In the second, attorney Elise Roy was able to get real time captioning in the Court for the first time -- a service similar to what the DHHBA members will use. And that case, fittingly over ADA access to state courthouses, was a win.

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