Arguing in the U.S. Supreme Court . . . and in Other Important Courts
Every lawyer dreams of arguing in the U.S. Supreme Court. My dream came true when I argued there on behalf of the Governments of India and Mongolia.
It was amazing. For months, my colleague Bob Kandel and I studied every legal authority our team could find. We worked with some of the smartest lawyers in the country to draft the brief, and we convinced the U.S. Solicitor General to argue in support of our side of the case.
Then came the oral argument. Standing before nine Justices. Going one-on-one with Justice Scalia. Diving deep into the nuances of international law with the Notorious RBG. Getting a helping hand from the Chief when another Justice tried to take me down an irrelevant path. These are some of the most unforgettable moments of my legal career.
If the opportunity arises again, I will jump at it. But I am perfectly content to represent people in the trial courts every day.
By the time a case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, the issues are limited to questions of law. The Justices are concerned with legal principles, precedents, and hypotheticals. “If we rule in your favor, what will happen in the next case with slightly different facts?” It is intellectually challenging and satisfying. But the Justices are less concerned with the impact their decision will have on your particular client.
It is telling that there is no place in the courtroom for your client to sit. You have to make special arrangements if your client wants to watch the argument of their own case.
Trial judges and juries are focused on the people sitting in front of them. They listen to testimony and decide who is telling the truth. And when a verdict is announced, there are often tears and hugs. It explains why many of us who work in the trial courts write novels or produce Broadway plays. We are storytellers who use direct testimony, cross-examination, and visual exhibits to seek justice.
Give me a smart trial judge with common sense and a commitment to justice. Give me a jury of ordinary citizens who take their oath seriously. The U.S. Supreme Court may be the brains of our judicial system. But the trial courts and the lawyers who practice there are the heart and lungs that keep the justice system alive.
John Howley, Esq.
P.S. – You can listen to my Supreme Court argument here: https://www.oyez.org/cases/2006/06-134