How to Graduate Like a Supreme Court Justice

The current court is filled with justices who sprung forth from the ivy league (all graduated from either Harvard or Yale, with the exception of Amy Coney Barret, who graduated from Notre Dame). However, Colorado has had its share of alums on the court. Byron White, President Kennedy’s first nomination to the Supreme Court, served from 1962-1993. He earned his undergraduate degree at University of Colorado in 1938, and is one of the few supreme court justices ever to have had a professional football career (with the Pittsburgh Steelers and later, the Detroit Lions).[1]

Years before Justice White earned the nickname “Whizzer” for his football skill, FDR appointed Wiley Rutledge to the highest court in the country. Wiley B. Rutledge graduated from Colorado Law in 1922. You can see his photograph in the composite photo located on the library’s garden level. 100 years later, as the class of 2022 prepares to complete their law school education, it may prove instructive to see what has changed and what is the same at Colorado Law.

The Method of Instruction in 1922 consisted almost entirely of the Case-system, in which “the study of the principles of law as illustrated in judicial opinion, is followed with the view of arriving at such principles by the process of inductive reasoning.” This should sound like a familiar methodology to law students today, even with legal education’s modern push toward experiential learning.

The 1L curriculum of 1922 will also look familiar to current Colorado Law students: 1st quarter: Common Law Pleading, Contracts, Torts; 2nd quarter: Contracts II, Property, Torts II; 3rd quarter: Agency, Criminal Law and Procedure, Property II, and “Use of law books” (with practical exercises). Despite the change in terminology, I suspect “Use of Law Books with practical exercises” has the same desired outcomes as our Foundations of Legal Research course, also offered to students in their first year of study.

There were differences, as well, perhaps most obviously, the building was different. Rutledge went to classes in the Samuel Guggenheim law building, built in 1909, while our students attend classes in Wolf Law Building (and sometimes in a virtual reality classroom, thanks to our Pandemic, a significant contrast to the pandemic Rutledge would have lived through circa 1918). The 1922 law library consisted of 13,100 volumes and was open from 9 AM to 10 PM on weekdays, whereas our Wise Law Library has more than half a million volumes, and lets you study on the weekends, too!

Living in Boulder in 1922 looked slightly different, too. The estimated price of board, room, light, and fuel was between $8 and $14 per week. And the overall living expenses per year were ranged from $353 to $856 per year, depending on a student’s tastes and habits. Law school tuition per quarter was $20 for residents, and $30 for non-residents.[2]

Wiley Rutledge worked as a lawyer in Boulder after graduation, but soon found his way back to Colorado Law. By 1925, he had become Associate Professor Rutledge, and faculty minutes were taken in his hand.[3] As the newest professor on the faculty, he was tasked with the job of secretary, a practice the faculty still follows. You can see him in the garden level composite photos as a professor in 1925-1926. His time on the law faculty was not lengthy. He resigned in August 1926 after he was offered a full professorship at Washington University in St. Louis.[4]

When Wiley Rutledge graduated in 1922, he could not have predicted that in the next 21 years, he would be lawyer, professor, law school dean, judge for the D.C. circuit, and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Nor can this year’s graduates foresee all the different paths their careers will take, what their accomplishments will be, or who will one day gain inspiration from looking at their composite photo. This month, it is enough to celebrate how far you’ve come, the accomplishments you’ve already achieved, and the momentous conclusion to your time at Colorado Law.

[1] Read more about CU history in Glory Colorado! : a history of the University of Colorado, 1858-1963 / by William E. Davis at LD 1178 .D35 1965.

[2] See Colorado School of Law Bulletin at  KF 270 .C66 S36  1907-23

[3] See Law Faculty Minutes at KF 292 .C6625 L39 Apr. 25, 1910-July 21, 1941 

[4] Rutledge is not the only justice who taught at Colorado Law. More recently, Neil Gorsuch, who taught ethics and antitrust law at Colorado, joined the court.