11 individuals stand in a line in a formal room, wearing business attire in black and grey colors.
Image taken at the U.S. Supreme Court by Michael Altner. From left to right: SCOTUS Bar Admittees: Jana Miller, Peter Pentony, Michael Sabella, Robert Reilman, Kristy Avino, Caitlin Parton, Azeema Akram, Jeremy Bolton, Anna Maria Wilson, Jessica Kennedy, and Movant, Rachel Arfa. ID: 11 individuals stand in a line in a formal room, wearing business attire in black and grey colors.

On Wednesday, December 11, 2019, ten members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association (DHHBA) were sworn in and admitted to the Bar of the United States Supreme Court.  All members are deaf or hard of hearing attorneys. DHHBA President Rachel Arfa made the motion in American Sign Language (ASL) and Spoken English, becoming the first attorney to address the Court in two languages simultaneously. Chief Justice John Roberts responded to Attorney Arfa’s motion in ASL and Spoken English, signing, “Your motion is granted,” marking the third time that he has used ASL to approve DHHBA’s motion.

The participants are:

  •         Azeema Akram, Administrative Law Judge, Illinois Commerce Commission, Chicago, Illinois
  •         Kristy L. Avino, Attorney, McCarter & English, LLP, Boston, Massachusetts
  •         Jeremy Bolton, Solo Practitioner, New Orleans, Louisiana
  •         Jessica Kennedy, Legal Director, Communication Service for the Deaf, St. Paul, Minnesota
  •         Jana Miller, Attorney, Ashland, Kentucky
  •         Caitlin Parton, Attorney, Disability Law Center, Boston, Massachusetts
  •         Peter Pentony, Attorney, WilliamsFord, Shepherdstown, West Virginia
  •         Robert Reilman, Solo Practitioner, Kalmazoo, Michigan
  •         Michael Sabella, Attorney, Baker & Hostetler LLP, New York, New York
  •         Anna Maria Wilson, Chief Legal Officer, Communication Service for the Deaf, Austin, Texas

This is the third time that DHHBA participated in the group swearing-in ceremony.  The Supreme Court provided American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, realtime captioning (also known as Communication Access Realtime Translation, or CART) and assistive listening devices for DHHBA participants.  The ASL interpreters were Jackie Lightfoot and Carla Mathers and the Captioner was Beverly Early.

Rachel Arfa, DHHBA President and an attorney at Equip for Equality, Illinois’ designated Protection and Advocacy Agency, was part of the inaugural group of 13 DHHBA attorneys sworn into the U.S. Supreme Court Bar on April 19, 2016.  A second group of 11 DHHBA attorneys was sworn in on January 17, 2018. Ms. Arfa presented the motion to admit the ten new admittees. “DHHBA is honored to present its members for admittance to the Supreme Court Bar, as a demonstrated commitment to increasing representation of deaf and hard of hearing attorneys in the legal field. Deaf and hard of hearing attorneys often have to navigate through barriers to succeed in their careers, and having them stand up in front of the greatest court of the land to be admitted is a significant and symbolic gesture for our members,” stated Ms. Arfa.

It is customary for attorneys to be admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court Bar with a group, such as a professional organization or a group of university alumni.  At the ceremony, an attorney who is already a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar vouches for the group of prospective members, and the Chief Justice then welcomes them before they are sworn in.  Attorneys admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court Bar are permitted to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Admission is only granted if an attorney is sponsored by two current members of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar and has been an attorney in good standing for at least three years. This is DHHBA’s third appearance since 2016 and the total number of DHHBA members admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court Bar is 34 deaf and hard of hearing attorneys.

Afterwards, Gallaudet University, the nation’s only liberal arts college for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, hosted a special reception in honor of the ten admittees.  The reception was hosted by Gallaudet President Roberta Cordano, who is also a deaf attorney herself, and recognized the achievements of the ten deaf and hard of hearing attorneys.

For more information, please contact DHHBA President, Rachel Arfa at admin@deafbar.org, (312)278-7001 (phone), or 202-247-5943 (text only). Learn more about DHHBA at https://www.deafbar.org.

10 individuals are standing in two rows, smiling for the camera. The Gallaudet University logo is visible in the background.
Image taken at Gallaudet University, National Deaf Life Museum. Front row: Robert Reilman, Gallaudet President Roberta Cordano, Azeema Akram, Jana Miller, Lisa Bothwell. Back row: Peter Pentony, Rachel Arfa, Faye Kuo, Anna Maria Wilson and Jessica Kennedy.