Federal defenders from across the nation have argued at least one case every term except for one since at least 2000, according to Adler. Most often, it’s their first and only time in front of the justices (article available here).
With the Supreme Court hearing fewer and fewer cases each term, the criminal defense attorneys—like most first-time advocates—face intense pressure from elite law firms to turn over their Supreme Court cases to experienced advocates.
In response to that pressure, and to criticism from the justices, federal defenders have developed support systems to help prepare for a successful argument. The Defender Supreme Court Resource & Assistance Panel, for example, partners first time advocates with federal defenders with high court experience.
The Supreme Court bar is dominated by a small group of big firm lawyers who specialize in arguing before the justices and other appellate courts.
A former assistant federal defender who argued at the Supreme Court in 2019 said there’s a degree of elitism in thinking that only big firm lawyers are capable of doing Supreme Court work.
Through our Supreme Court Advocacy Program, the Training Division provides assistance to federal defender staff and panel attorneys representing CJA-eligible defendants in the United States Supreme Court.
The Program brings together a variety of resources, including defenders from across the country who have expertise and practical experience on the particular issues of federal criminal law that come before the Court; Sidley Austin, LLP; the Defender Supreme Court Resource & Assistance Panel (DSCRAP); and the Supreme Court Institute at the Georgetown University Law Center.
If you would like to take advantage of the resources we provide through our Supreme Court Advocacy Program, please contact Attorney-Advisor Craig Crawford, Craig_Crawford@ao.uscourts.gov. You determine the level of assistance that we will provide, from consultation with an attorney, to moot court practice sessions, to research assistance, to brief writing or editing.