Orrin Hatch and Staff Have a Day in Court

Utah Republican swears in staffers to Supreme Court Bar

Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch had himself a full day at the Supreme Court on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch used some old connections to get a prime seat at Supreme Court arguments Tuesday — and the Utah Republican also snagged some front-row seats for two staffers who worked on legislation at issue in the case.

Hatch, 83, has been a senator since 1977, and that makes him the second-longest serving member. But almost 10 years before that, in April 1967, he became a member of the Supreme Court Bar, Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock said.

The membership allows Hatch to sit in the section reserved for lawyers at the front of the courtroom. (And it also helps that he participated in the confirmation of every current sitting justice, Whitlock added.)

After the justices took their seats for arguments Tuesday, Hatch took the podium and moved for two staffers — Chief of Staff Matt Sandgren and counsel Peter Carey — to be admitted to the Supreme Court Bar.

Sandgren and Carey were among about two dozen lawyers who chose to be admitted to the Supreme Court Bar in open court before the arguments started. They stood up with the group and took the bar oath.

And then the staffers settled in for an hour of arguments, sitting about 10 feet from Justice Elena Kagan in the front row on the left side of the courtroom.

The justices considered a major case about whether email service providers must comply with warrants even if data is stored outside the United State — and they several times mentioned legislation on the topic that Hatch introduced. 

“Part of what made today special is that Sen. Hatch was able to swear in his staff members right before they watched the Supreme Court debate an issue and legislation they had worked on,” Whitlock said.

Lawyers who want to join the Supreme Court Bar only need to show they have been members in good standing of a state bar for at least three years, have two sponsors who are members of the Supreme Court Bar, and pay a $200 fee. Thousands join each year, hundreds in open court.

Sandgren and Carey were sponsored by Hatch and Christopher Bates, Hatch’s chief counsel.

Sandgren, who served as Hatch’s senior counsel for 13 years before taking the chief of staff job,  is one of Capitol Hill’s top experts on technology law and policy, Whitlock said.

Carey joined Hatch’s office last year to lead the senator’s criminal justice portfolio. He previously worked at the Cadwalader, Wishersham & Taft law firm, where he focused on criminal defense issues.

The Hatch group is just the latest to use the Supreme Court bar process to check out arguments. Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus got a front-row seat at the high court’s oral arguments on a challenge to the 2010 health care law when he was admitted to the bar in 2016.

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