By Douglas B. Stevenson, Esq.
The United States Supreme Court is the highest federal court in the United States. It considers cases with significant legal questions, and its opinions set important legal precedents for future cases. Recently, I drafted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief asking the Supreme Court to hear a case involving the enforceability of contractual arbitration clauses, specifically in relation to a Filipino seafarer who had been injured on his ship while in the United States but had been unable to have his case heard in US courts. This case was important to SCI because it involved our longstanding belief that seafarers, shipowners, and the United States all benefit from protecting seafarers’ ancient fundamental rights to medical care. Guarding seafarers’ customary maritime rights is a critically important part of US public policy.
I could not file the brief because I was not admitted to practice before the Supreme Court. Fortunately, experienced Supreme Court attorney James Maloney volunteered to assist me by polishing the brief and filing it with the Court. The case was not accepted, but the process of drafting and filing a brief was an excellent experience, convincing me to seek admission to the Supreme Court. This would enable me to file briefs and potentially argue cases related to SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights advocacy on behalf of seafarers personally in the future, should the necessity arise.
On January 17, 2018, maritime attorney Vincent Foley from the law firm Holland & Knight and I were admitted to practice before the Supreme Court. Judge Walter Brudzinski, the Coast Guard’s Chief Administrative Law Judge, moved our admission to the Court, and Chief Justice John Roberts granted the motion to admit us to the Bar. Following our admission, we were invited to remain in our seats in the front of the Court room to hear arguments on two cases, one involving the question of whether service advisers at car dealerships are eligible for overtime pay. The other case involved the question of whether a criminal defense lawyer can ignore his client’s wishes by conceding his client’s guilt in the hopes of avoiding the death penalty. I learned much by observing the nation’s top judges and appellate attorneys in action as they argued a case before the Supreme Court.
As always, SCI stands ready to advocate for seafarers around the world in very low-key and very public settings.