Allyson Ho, ’00, Provides Annual Supreme Court Preview

Meredith Heagney
Law School Office of Communications
October 25, 2013

Like so many Chicago Law alumni, Allyson Ho, ’00, is unthinkably busy. She’s one of the nation’s top appellate litigators, co-chairing the Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation Practice at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Texas. She’s also the mother of twin two-year-olds. Even so, she takes a day out of her schedule every year to fly to Chicago and speak to law students.

Ho’s event, sponsored by the Federalist Society, gives an annual preview of some of the important cases to come before the Supreme Court in the current term. She’s only missed one year in the past five, and that was for the birth of her children.

“As a student, I gained so much being able to listen to speakers that the Federalist Society and other groups bring on campus,” said Ho, who served as president and vice-president in charge of speakers for the student group. “This is my way of giving back and trying to provide to the current students what I found to be such a benefit. The lunchtime period, when law students gather to hear people talk, is such a special part of the Law School experience.”

Ho spoke before an over-capacity crowd in Room V on October 10. She told the students, many of them 1Ls who were just starting to study the law, that “it’s an exciting period at the Court. The Court has an array of cases this term in which it could do some very big things,” she said. She then outlined several of those big cases and their basic facts and issues, providing her own analysis along the way.

Ho talked about National Labor Relations Board v. Canning, which asks several questions about the president’s recess appointment power. Most importantly, the case asks whether a presidential appointment can be made while the Senate is in recess during a session, or whether recess appointments must be made between sessions.

She touched on Town of Greece v. Galloway, which questions whether a city council’s prayer practice violates the Establishment Clause, even if there is no discrimination in the types of prayer offered. Ho said that the town’s lawyers might use this case to attempt to jettison the so-called “endorsement test,” which is often credited to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whom Ho clerked for after law school.

The test asks the court to consider how the prayer would appear to a “reasonable observer.” The test is much maligned, Ho said, but would be difficult to replace. “As someone who has litigated Establishment Clause cases before the Supreme Court, and in trying to get them to the Supreme Court, I’m very cynical that the Court will really say farewell to the endorsement test.”

Ho also talked about last term’s affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, and its similarities to a Michigan case argued October 15, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.

David Suska, ’16, said Ho’s talk was useful for law students who try to keep up with the Supreme Court but don’t always have a lot of time to do so. More importantly, her job is an inspiration, said Suska, who skipped the food line to ensure he’d get a good seat.

“There are a lot of people who come to law school hoping they will join a firm and work in a Supreme Court practice,” he said. Her annual appearance speaks to “both how much she enjoyed her time here and also the expectations students have about what they could do in practice.”

Ho’s annual visit is also “a reflection of how committed our alumni base is,” said Kathryn Bi, ’15, who is following in Ho’s footsteps as vice president for speakers in the Federalist Society. “Our members are very invested in the group, even after graduation.  We are incredibly fortunate to have alumni who actively help to make our organization a success."

That lasting connection to the group is very real, said Ho, who in 2011 presented the group’s Lee Liberman Otis Award for public service to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, ’67. The award also has been given to her husband, Jim Ho, ’99, Partner in the Dallas office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and the former Solicitor General of Texas.

Asked about her favorite speaker during her Federalist Society days, Ho remembered bringing in Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who famously investigated President Bill Clinton. Ho was proud of the treatment Starr received at Chicago Law after being heckled at other colleges. Not everyone agreed with him, of course, but they treated him with respect while asking him tough questions, she said. In the end, that quality also keeps her coming back to her alma mater, she added.

“When speakers come, it’s not just a lecture,” Ho said. “It’s either a debate or a civil exchange. In today’s world, it’s so important to have areas where people with different points of view can come together in a very civil but rigorous setting.”