First President Obama, now U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts! Roberts used sign language from the Supreme Court bench on Tuesday, April 19 to welcome a dozen deaf and hard-of-hearing attorneys. They, then, proceeded with the ceremony that authorized them to argue cases before the court of the United States.
Roberts personally swore in the 12 members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association as members of the Supreme Court bar. This membership allows each of these attorneys to argue cases before the assembled Supreme Court Justices, although most members never do so.
After being formally presented to the court, Roberts used American Sign Language to say, "Your motion is granted."
Roberts was appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush. He is believed to be the only justice to use ASL from the bench in the courtroom. This was also the first time any member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association was sworn in to the court.
After being sworn in, the lawyers stayed for oral arguments in two cases, during which they were allowed to use instant transcription services, which were then transmitted to electronic devices. There were previously no electronic devices allowed in the courtroom.
Teresa Curtin of the Weitz & Luxenberg law firm began her career in the late 1980s. During that time, there were not many deaf lawyers in the United States. Today, there are about 250 deaf and hard-of-hearing lawyers, according to Curtin, and this event was just one of many to come aimed at encouraging people with disabilities to seek legal careers.
Michael Chatoff, a legally deaf lawyer, argued a case before the Supreme Court in 1982. He used a real-time transcription system to help him argue whether or not schools should be required to provide interpreters for their deaf and hard-of-hearing students. He lost the case 6-3.
In 2013, the White House published a response to a petition to officially recognize American Sign Language as a community language and have it taught in schools. The White House responded, saying "there shouldn't be any stigma about American Sign Language" and went on to say that it is a vital form of communication for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and it is vital to "reinforce its importance in numerous federal laws, regulations, and policies."
Thank you, Justice Roberts!