Speaking at the Supreme Court

What's it like to argue before the nation's highest court?

By: Marisa M. Kashino

Lisa Blatt, the leader of Arnold & Porter’s appellate and Supreme Court practice, says that every argument before the nine justices is a milestone. But that was particularly true during Blatt’s most recent appearance, advocating for a Korean War veteran who was denied benefits, in Henderson v. Shinseki.

That argument, on December 6, was Blatt’s 29th at the high court, making her the record holder for most Supreme Court arguments of any living woman lawyer.

Number 29 was momentous for another reason—it was Blatt’s first time arguing at the Supreme Court as a lawyer in private practice. She joined Arnold & Porter in 2009 from the US Office of the Solicitor General.

Blatt was previously tied with Akin Gump’s Patricia Millett for most arguments. Both women are trailblazers on the male-dominated Supreme Court bar. “The fact that both Patty and I together have now done over 50 is fabulous,” says Blatt. “We’re on this road together.”

While Blatt and Millett have surpassed many of the men who argue at the high court, top male Supreme Court advocates Seth Waxman, Ted Olson, Paul Clement, and Carter Phillips have argued more than 50 times each before the justices. Phillips is the leader, with 70 arguments.

The race continues: In January, Blatt is scheduled to be back at One First Street for her 30th argument.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Theodore Boutrous Jr. is just getting started on his argument tally at the Supreme Court.

When the high court decided that it would hear the big civil-rights class action Walmart v. Dukes, that meant Boutrous would get the chance to fulfill his dream of delivering an oral argument before the nine justices.

Boutrous says part of what attracted him to Gibson’s Washington office 23 years ago was the prospect of one day arguing at the Supreme Court. He has worked on Supreme Court briefs and argument prep, but the Walmart case will be the first time he actually faces the justices.

Boutrous has represented Walmart in the matter since 2004. It involves a class of hundreds of thousands of current and former Walmart employees—led by store greeter Betty Dukes—who say the company discriminates against women. Walmart is challenging the lower court’s decision to certify the class. Civil-rights attorney Joseph Sellers, a name partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, will argue for the class. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the matter in the spring.

This article first appeared in the January 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.   

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