On October 6, 2010, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member and Assistant General Counsel, Cheryl Scott, was sworn in as an attorney who is allowed to practice before the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
An attorney wishing to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States must apply for that honor. The attorney must have been admitted to a state bar for at least three years, and the application must be sponsored by two attorneys already admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court Bar who can attest that the applicant meets the required qualifications and is of good professional and moral character. A fee and a sworn oath are also required. Scott, a certified lawyer before the Arizona State Supreme Court since 2007, decided to take the opportunity of a lifetime when the opportunity arose to apply to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Two Washington, D.C. attorneys served as her sponsors, and with her outstanding background in working with the State of Arizona, her application was approved.
“The process included verifying that I am in good standing with the Arizona State Bar and that I didn’t obtain any disciplinary infractions on my professional record within the past three years,” said Scott about the admissions process.
Once everything checked out, Scott was given a notice that she was ready to be “motioned in” to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There are two ways that an applicant can be admitted,” she said. “You can complete a written motion, sign the oath of admission and submit via mail, or you can be admitted in open court by being motioned in by an attorney already admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and take the oath in person before the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Scott. “I was fortunate enough to go with one of my Arizona State University Law School professors, [Myles Lynk], who personally motioned me in.”
‘I Can’t Believe I Am Sitting Here’
Scott and a small number of other graduates from what is now called the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU sat in front of the U.S. Supreme Court justices as they were motioned in.
“They have designated seating areas and we were ushered in by single-file line.
They call the name of the state, all the attorneys from that state rise and they admit [all the lawyers waiting to be motioned in] by state. I was within eight feet of the panel of justices; Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the closest to me,” said Scott.
“It was a surreal moment as I sat there seeing all the justices,” she continued. “I have read numerous cases and the opinions of the justices and I’ve watched the court to see how they are going to rule on various cases. But [it was amazing] to be sitting there in person before these justices, who are some of the greatest legal minds—granted, I don’t agree with everything they decide—however, they have such great experience and knowledge of the legal system. Listening to them debate the issues, ask questions for clarification and to see their legal analysis and the reasoning behind their decisions was an incredible experience.
I was fortunate to sit in on two oral arguments and the whole time I was sitting there, I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe I am sitting here.’
“[Former U.S. Supreme Court] Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was actually sitting a few feet away when I was being sworn in. When Professor Lynk motioned the Arizona attorneys in, Chief Justice Roberts commented that ‘If they are from the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law, I am certain they meet all of our requirements and your motion is hereby granted,’” said Scott. “Sandra Day O’Connor contacted the dean at ASU and invited the Arizona attorneys to her chambers, where she showed us pictures taken of her with different leaders and presidents. She also informed us that it was unusual for Chief Justice Roberts to deviate from his standard admissions process by commenting on the law school from which the attorney’s graduated. She stated she was quite amused by it.
“She is leaving such a huge imprint on many legal minds, and to see her in person and to talk to her for a few minutes about what she sees and what she believes is important in the practice of law, [was wonderful],” explained Scott.
Finding Work-Life Balance
After the visit with O’Connor, Scott and her group attended a private reception with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who addressed the fundamental issue of leading a balanced life in what is certainly one of the most important jobs in the United States.
Ginsburg, who was hospitalized for pancreatic cancer in 2009 and later returned to her work on the Supreme Court, told the attorneys, “We have to pursue the legal career and we have to give our heart to what we’re doing and be intent upon relishing in the moment, but at the same time [it’s important to] balance it with family and friends, and not to forget yourselves.”
“It’s a great thing to do service, it really is, but she reminded us that we can’t forget about ourselves and can’t forget that we have to be happy and whole,” Scott said.
“She shared a lot of wisdom and advice. We were able to ask her questions about certain cases that we were interested in and what her thoughts were at the time the decisions were rendered, so that was an interesting insight as well,” said Scott.
Although Scott is now certified to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, she is hoping that the Community does not have cases that have to be litigated at that level, although it’s good to always be prepared.
“That is my focus: to always prepare myself and to get as much experience and knowledge behind me as possible so I can serve the Community,” said Scott.
Follow Your Own Calling
As far as what is next in Scott’s future, she said she tries not to rule anything out.
“What I have accomplished so far is because I kept my mind open, but if the opportunity arises and if I am led by God to take [a certain] step, I will absolutely do so,” said Scott. “You have to set aside any doubt, any fear, and know that what you’re called to do is something that you have been equipped to accomplish.”
Scott’s advice for other Community members considering a law career is to not to let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.
“If your call is to go into the legal field, then don’t let anyone stop you,” she said.
“Keep holding on; don’t give up, and have faith. Every single decision you make is either leading you toward your dream or away from it. [Your goal] always has to be in the forefront of your mind. The friends I choose, the places I go, the things I fill my life with are either leading me to that dream or away from that dream.”
Scott would like to thank the Community, her family, her office and all the attorneys who pulled together to support her in this great accomplishment. She said she is very grateful.
“I’m truly blessed,” said Scott.