The Supreme Court's Bar Membership Is Not "Shrouded in Secrecy."

The Journal of the Supreme Court includes the name of every member admitted, as well as the name of every member who is subject to discipline.


The Georgetown Policy Review published an essay by Henry Baumgarten titled, "Open the Bar: Toward Greater Supreme Court Transparency." It begins:

The United States Supreme Court conceals the names of lawyers that belong to the Supreme Court Bar. This lack of transparency is unusual and raises multiple concerns. If the Supreme Court fails to follow the example set by courts across the country and publicize its bar membership, then Congress ought to intervene.

Later, the essay concludes, "For the time being, the Supreme Court Bar's membership remains shrouded in secrecy."

Hardly. The Supreme Court publishes the name of every member admitted, as well as the name of every member who is subject to discipline. Where is this information recorded? Most people, and perhaps the author of the essay, are unaware of the Journal of the Supreme Court. It is published annually, and posted on the Court's web site.

For example, turn to page 649 of the October 2015 Journal. You will find the notation of my admission to the Supreme Court bar. (Zubik v. Burwell was argued that day).

The Journal also indicates all members who are disbarred.

True enough, the Supreme Court does not have a searchable database of all members. And there is no easy way to determine whether members have passed away. But it is simply not true that the membership of the Court is "shrouded in secrecy."

Update: Yesterday I emailed the Georgetown Journal of Policy. The Online Editor promptly wrote back, and told me that the Author has made revisions to the essay. The piece now includes the follow two notes:

Author's Note:

My thanks to Josh Blackman of the Volokh Conspiracy for noting that the Supreme Court Journal lists members of the Supreme Court Bar for the year in which they are admitted. While such measures are better than nothing, they fall far short of a best practice with regard to transparency and would actually make the creation of a searchable database similar to those documented in this article even easier for the Court to establish. Minor changes have been made for clarity and to address this valid point.

Editor's Note:

This article was originally published on November 28, 2020, and included an italicized dek at the beginning of the piece that was written by GPPR Online Editorial Staff. It inaccurately summarized the author's argument, and has been revised.

I appreciate that they made these corrections so quickly. The original version is preserved here.


NEXT: President Obama's Memoir Includes Virtually Nothing About the Supreme Court (Update)

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  1. True enough, the Supreme Court does not have a searchable database of all members.

    If it’s not digital, it does not exist. (The author seems to have graduated from Law School around 2015, so maybe he does not realize that in the distant past, meaning the 20th century, records were kept on paper.)

  2. If you go to the Supreme Court website and enter my last name in the search feature, you will find the journal entry that confirms I am a member of the Supreme Court bar pretty easily. You can also use Westlaw (and probably other legal databases) to find out if an attorney has appeared in a calendar case.

  3. “Shrouded in secrecy” is left-speak for “I am utterly ignorant of…”

  4. i would get around to applying to the scotus bar if i knew two members willing to cosign my application. gtbear at gmail.

  5. O.K., Josh, you’ve proved that you’re in the Supreme Court bar. Which I think was the motivation for you posting this. Someday they will forgive Ilya Shapiro, though probably not anytime soon.

    1. But will they forgive Ilya Somin??

  6. Josh Blackman’s Volokh Conspiracy post “The Supreme Court’s Bar Membership Is Not ‘Shrouded in Secrecy’” inspired me to see whether I was listed as admitted to the Supreme Court bar in the Journal of the Supreme Court. Sure enough, I’m listed on page 91 of the 1977 Journal of the Supreme Court.

    The surprise was seeing that the next person on the list after me was one Bill Clinton, of Little Rock, Ark. That’s “Bill,” not “William” or “William Jefferson.”

    1. He was already Attorney General of Arkansas — and using “Bill” as his professional name.

  7. I do not understand the masochists who hate Josh Blackman so much that they have to read and comment on his posts just to prove how much they hate him.

    I heard once an interesting social difference between Japanese and Americans, probably most Europeans too but I do not know. A Japanese who is known to be friends with someone famous will be thought a snob if he refers to that famous friend with the equivalent of “Mr Trump” instead of “Donald”, as if he is pretending he doesn’t know the famous friend. An American who refers to “my friend Donald” is considered to be bragging.

    I am not sure what that says about the hate braggarts above.

    1. Haters gonna hate.

    2. Josh could have just posted the list of S.Ct. admitted attorneys (or the link to it) so as to prove his point. But no, he had to post the official page where he was admitted. There he is, in U.S. Reports’ distinctive Century font. Probably has it framed on the door to his office. Other places too, one can only guess. Tattooed on his arm?

      1. And that is a great example of hate.

      2. Your ability to discern with such great confidence the internal psychological state of a blogger whom you don’t know and with regard to which you have only the scantest evidence is truly remarkable.

        1. Josh is gratuitously boasting. The evidence is as clear as can be.

          As I said before, Josh’s main problem is lack of maturity.

    3. To be fair, I ignore the vast majority of Josh’s posts, having learned that they are mainly just self-promotional, masturbatory, and/or intellectually dishonest. I venture to leave negative comments only on the most clearly abusive or nauseating posts, any more. Like post 5 of 42 of his Thanksgiving Day, “Look ma, the Supreme Court kind of gave me a hat tip” posts.

  8. Is that the same Journal of the Supreme Court that contains proceedings from the Court’s “shadow docket”? Maybe the appropriate term should be The Supreme Court “Shadow Bar.”

  9. Josh. The entire enterprise looks silly and idiotic. It comes from the disputation method of Scholasticism, a religious philosophy. It was cool 800 years ago. Today, it is really stupid. The lawyer is the stupidest person in the nation. The Ivy indoctrinated lawyer is the stupidest lawyer. Judges are the stupidest Ivy indoctrinated lawyers. And the Supreme Court Justice is the stupidest of all judges. They are bookworms who don’t know anything. They get to make policy decisions for the whole country. They are always. wrong.

  10. Expect a lot more sniping at SCOTUS now that it’s not mostly Leftists any more.

    1. The thing is, Jerry, the Supreme Court never was “mostly leftists.” The decisions most hated by the right were mostly the product of a bipartisan court adopting mainstream interpretations of the Constitution. Roe v Wade and Obergefell were both written by Republicans.

      What you’ve just witnessed is a fifty year campaign to replace mainstream jurisprudence with radical right wing extremism. That those earlier decisions seem leftist to you is a sign of how extreme you are, and not how leftist the court is.

      1. No one can escape culture. Move to France, you will become French, even if you hate France. Move to DC, you will become a neo-Marxist, rent seeking, depraved, big government person. Het your indoctrination in the Ivy League, you will already be a big government person.

        Move the Supreme Court to Wichita. Exlclude all lawyers from its bench. If it insists on writing the law, give it the size of a legislature, 500 Justices. Impeach Justuces for their decisions.

      2. Liberal: My interpretation of jurisprudence is “mainstream”….

        Yeah…OK…that is some blatant confirmation bias there.

        1. No confirmation bias necessary; just look at the fact that judges, both liberal and conservative, both Republican and Democrat, were mostly reaching similar conclusions up until the conservatives started packing the courts.

  11. I’m in the 1979 journal. IIRC, back then it cost $25, you only needed one movant, no background or exam, and you did not need to leave your home state (oddly abbreviated as “Oreg.” in the journal) to be sworn in. You got an impressive certificate (nobody knew that it was meaningless) suitable for framing and display in your office for its bling value. I think you get some preferment for seating at arguments (I worked in DC for a few years in the 90s, but never checked on that). And now you have the status of belonging to a club “shrouded in secrecy.”

    1. I was admitted in June 2018. I needed two movants and it was $200 (which is a bit more than double $25 after inflation) but it is basically the same as you describe.

    2. The Ancient and Secret Order of Bar Laborers….?

  12. You got an impressive certificate (nobody knew that it was meaningless)

    You’ve spilled the beans. Now we know.

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