So Who Can Argue A Case In Front Of The Supreme Court?

National Constitution Center


January 10, 2014

On Monday, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell will be one of three people allowed to argue a case before the Supreme Court. So how unusual is it for a non-lawyer to appear before the nine Justices?

That is basically a trick question, because Senator McConnell is a lawyer by training. He has a law degree from the University of Kentucky and he was also a deputy assistant attorney general in the Gerald Ford administration.

McConnell had also received permission to appear before the Court in another case last year, the McCutheon case about campaign finance contributions.  Instead, attorney Bobby Burchfield argued the case for McConnell, as the senator sat in the courtroom.

In the newer case on Monday, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP’s Miguel Estrada is expected to argue the case for McConnell and 44 fellow Republican senators.

There is a precedent for a political figure to argue in front of the Supreme Court. For example, in 1840 former President John Quincy Adams argued before the Justices as a member of the House of Representatives in the Amistad case.

Adams was also a lawyer and he won his case before the Court. Richard Nixon and Abraham Lincoln also argued before the Court, as private attorneys, as did five other men who were eventually Presidents. (Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled against Lincoln in an 1849 case.)