April 17, 2014
Tulane Law Review Alumnus of the Year Gen. William Suter
congratulates Editor in Chief Jimmy Miller.
Gen. William Suter (right) talks with Alex Rothenberg (L’ 12)
while 3L Lowell Dyer waits.
Jeanie and William Suter listen to law review banquet presentations.
It was no predictor of outsized success that William K. Suter’s first piece for the Tulane Law Review went through 11 drafts before publication. In April, the law review presented its first Alumnus of the Year Award to Suter (L ’62), a retired U.S. Army Major General who led the Judge Advocate staff then spent 22 years as Clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Suter, a devoted Tulanian who also gained popularity on many levels as Supreme Court Clerk, was a unanimous selection for the law review recognition. The presentation highlighted a full-house banquet on April 3.
Senior Judge Jacques Wiener Jr. of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in his nominating letter: “Even though the Tulane Law Review has scores of distinguished alums, I can think of no former member of its student Board of Editors of whom we could be more proud to honor with our very first Alumnus of the Year award than William K. 'Bill' Suter.”
Wiener (L ’61) was Suter’s student editor, and he recalled that Suter “took my editorial nitpicking of his case note ‘like a man.’ ”
Suter already was married and a military man when he attended Tulane Law School — he had gone through Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Fort Hood, Texas, while Elvis Presley was there.
Suter ’s first career was noteworthy: His work as a JAG lawyer earned a Bronze Star and Distinguished Service Medal. He was staff judge advocate with the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky., when Gen. Colin Powell commanded one of its brigades. He commanded the JAG School, was chief judge of the Army’s appellate court and served as Acting Judge Advocate General.
His second career started when the Senate confirmed President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of Suter as Supreme Court Clerk. He ran the clerk’s office — overseeing the smooth processing of thousands of review petitions annually, instructing lawyers arguing before the justices and helping modernize court operations — from February 1991 until the end of August 2013.
Affable, knowledgeable and witty, Suter is a sought-after speaker at law schools and bar associations and has received honorary degrees from five law schools. Volume 88, Issue 1 of the Tulane Law Review, published in fall 2013, includes a series of tributes to Suter, including from Chief Justice John Roberts and Dean David Meyer, who served as a law clerk to Justice Byron White early in Suter’s tenure as Supreme Court Clerk.
Supreme Court advocate Tom Goldstein, who started the popular SCOTUSBLOG website, called Suter “a towering figure” in court history. “We commonly think of the great Chief Justices. But it is often the Clerk of the Court who both ensures the institution’s smooth operation and personally represents the Court in important functions,” Goldstein said.
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said Suter “has managed more than his share of big moments over his twenty-two years, always with aplomb. And he has done it all with a gracious manner, a ready smile and a wonderful sense of humor. He has been a great leader.”
Meyer said that when he was at the Supreme Court Suter “regaled me with stories of the highlights (and hijinks) of his student days in New Orleans and their formative influence. Now I understand that the seemingly rare combination of traits I long admired in Bill Suter — high-achieving yet down-to-earth, ambitious yet unfailingly decent, professional yet fun-loving — is characteristically Tulanian.”