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How the University snagged the Supreme Court's chief justice

BY ANNIE THOMAS
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 9, 2009

On The Wire, the Daily's news blog, new details are coming out about Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts visit to campus this weekend. Check it out here.

Many have wondered what exactly the best tack is to take when trying to get a visit from the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. University officials went with football tickets to the Notre Dame game. It worked.

This weekend the University of Michigan’s Law School will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a full schedule of events, including a live feed of the Notre Dame football game in the Law Quad, a panel discussion of the Law School's contributions to the legal field - in which all living deans of the Law School will participate - and a question-and-answer session with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

In a letter obtained by The Michigan Daily, Law School Dean Evan Caminker invited Roberts in 2007 to attend the celebrations, offering him a plethora of amenities including fifty-yard line seats to the Notre Dame game at the Big House.

“I recognize that you receive many more invitations to visit law schools than you can possibly accept,” Carminker wrote in the letter, "but I daresay that Michigan Law can offer something no other law school can: a seat at midfield in the Big House!”

“Only at this great law school,” the letter continued, “can you take a Saturday afternoon off, walk down the street, and sing Hail to the Victors with 110,000 of your new best friends as you (I hope?) cheer on one of the best college football teams in the nation.”

Carminker’s pitch culminated with an appeal to the variety of activities Roberts could take part in on campus.

“Given this hat trick of opportunities, I would like to invite you to come visit the University of Michigan Law School, spend some informal time with our students, help us celebrate our anniversary and groundbreaking, and root for the Maize and Blue,” Caminker wrote in the letter.

In addition to the other opportunities, the Law School offered Roberts a $15,000 honorarium. In response to the Daily’s information request, the University’s Freedom of Information Act Coordinator Patricia Sellinger wrote that Roberts did not accept the offer.

“Please note, that the honorarium offer was extended as a courtesy and the Law School did not expect Chief Justice Roberts to accept it;” Sellinger wrote, “in a verbal conversation, representatives for the Chief Justice have confirmed that he will not accept the honorarium offer.”

Margaret Leary, director and librarian of the Law Library, said the event with Roberts will be an informal question-and-answer session with Caminker, allowing for the possibility of spontaneous questions.

Roberts is at least the third Supreme Court justice to visit the Law School in the last five years.

Leary said some of the events are already sold out, and others have limited availability. She added that officials have already changed venues for the Roberts event due to demand from Law School students, alumni and faculty.

“Chief Justice Roberts was originally scheduled for 100 Hutchins Hall that holds maybe 350 people. We got more than that, so we moved it to Rackham … and then we filled Rackham, so we moved it to Hill,” she said.

In addition to giving the Law School community a chance to interact with Roberts, the sesquicentennial will celebrate the school’s achievements, like its international diversity, Leary said.

“(The sesquicentennial) means a lot, because one of the qualities this law school has that makes it stand out from most other law schools is that we’re old,” Leary said. “We’ve been around since 1859. We’ve always been a large law school. During the end of the 19th century the largest law school title was bouncing around between Columbia Law School and Michigan Law School. We’re also celebrating the fact that we are a public institution, which takes public service very seriously.”

Other scheduled events for the weekend include a gala dinner, a talk given by Leary -- who also happens to be an expert on William Cook, the largest donor in the history of the Law School -- and a live screening of the Notre Dame game in the Law Quad.

“We will have tents set up, which will already have been set up for the lunch on Friday. And we’re going to have giant monitors, giant screens, and that will be also basically a ticketed event,” Leary said.

According to Leary, Roberts plans to attend the football game at the Big House.

The event will also include celebrating a groundbreaking ceremony for the Law School’s new academic building and Law School Commons, where University President Mary Sue Coleman and Caminker are expected to make remarks. Roberts will be in attendance.

The four-day celebration also highlights the University’s global leadership in the law, an aspect of the school that, Leary says, is as old as the school itself.

“I think we’re also celebrating, as the logo says, 150 years of global leadership in law,” Leary said.

— Alex Kirshenbaum contributed to this report