Incoming law students at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law received an unexpected and thrilling surprise to end their first official week of law school: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch dropped in on the final day of orientation via Zoom to personally welcome students to the legal profession.
Gorsuch, who took his seat on the Court in April 2017, on Friday encouraged law students to persevere through challenging times as they start their legal studies in the midst of a global pandemic.
Gorsuch’s live remarks delighted law students and their families, who had gathered virtually on Zoom to participate in the S.J. Quinney College of Law’s annual swearing-in ceremony. The rite of passage, similar to white coat ceremonies celebrated by new medical students, was founded 18 years ago. The 90 members of the Class of 2023 completed orientation week and introduction to classes prior to the ceremony.
Gorsuch’s appearance is the first time a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has delivered the ceremony’s professional oath to students. Inviting him as one of event’s distinguished guests helped to end the week for new students on a high note, said Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner.
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way most incoming law students are beginning their legal education, Kronk Warner noted. From mask requirements to taking some courses online, law students embarking on a three-year path to earning a J.D. are doing so in one of the most uncertain times in recent history.
“In a time of so many unknowns and in a year when we had to change the way we delivered our traditional orientation to law students, we wanted to make our swearing-in ceremony particularly special for our legal community and our newest group of aspiring attorneys,” said Kronk Warner. “We were honored that Justice Gorsuch accepted our invitation and inspired our students with his words of wisdom at the swearing-in ceremony. We are grateful to have him as part of the festivities to cap off an excellent start to the academic year.”
Gorsuch’s remarks served as a reminder of the power a law degree. The Justice, who has ties to the West as a native of Denver, received a B.A. from Columbia University, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and a D.Phil. from Oxford University. He served as a law clerk to Judge David B. Sentelle of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and as a law clerk to Justice Byron R. White and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the Supreme Court of the United States. From 1995–2005, he was in private practice, and from 2005–2006 he was Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006. He served on the Standing Committee on Rules for Practice and Procedure of the U.S. Judicial Conference, and as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Rules of Appellate Procedure. He also taught at the University of Colorado Law School. President Donald J. Trump nominated him to the bench.
Reyes Aguilar, associate dean of admissions and financial aid at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, said Gorsuch’s presence added to an already momentous ceremony for law students.
“This is a unique opportunity for our students in the Class of 2023,” said Aguilar. “To be sworn in by a U.S. Supreme Court Justice is something that no other incoming class has ever experienced.”