In-person law school commencements return, drawing legal boldface names

  • Vanita Gupta, Loretta Lynch and Preet Bharara are scheduled to address law grads
  • U.S. Supreme Court justices are notably absent from this year’s announced speakers

(Reuters) – A former presidential candidate, a U.S. Supreme Court short lister and a television judge are among this year’s slate of law school commencement speakers — a group that so far doesn’t include any sitting high court justices.

For many law schools, this spring marks the return of in-person ceremonies after commencements were moved online in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some law schools this year are holding make-up ceremonies for those earlier classes.

Graduates of Columbia Law School on May 16 will hear from Andrew Yang, who got his Juris Doctor from the Manhattan school in 1999 and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election.

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U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs, whom President Biden considered for the Supreme Court seat ultimately filled by Ketanji Brown Jackson and who is currently a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, addressed Duke Law graduates on May 7. Judy Sheindlin, better known as Judge Judy after doling out justice for more than two decades on her namesake television show, will address New York Law School graduates on May 26.

It appears that Supreme Court justices are keeping a low profile this time around, though not every school has publicized its pick for commencement speaker. The court was roiled last week by the leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Most law school commencement speakers had already been booked by the time of the leak. Alito already canceled one post-leak appearance at a 5th Circuit judicial conference last week.

But there are plenty of state and federal judges on tap to deliver commencement remarks, and a smattering of other big legal names. Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, will speak to Brooklyn Law School graduates May 13. New York University School of Law graduates will hear from Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta May 19. And Harvard Law has former Attorney General Loretta Lynch on tap to address graduates May 25 during its Class Day.

Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York used his May 7 speech to Indiana University Maurer School of Law graduates to lament the lack of affordable legal representation in the United States. He endorsed the creation of limited legal license programs that would enable people without a J.D. to provide specific legal services at a lower cost.

“The sad fact of the matter is that legal services in the United States are increasingly available only to the relatively rich and — to a lesser extent — the very poor, with almost nothing in between,” Rakoff said.

Read more:

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