A Buckeye in the Supreme Court

November 24, 2010

"I spent three years working in the Mershon Center as a student, and was encouraged to carry on my education after graduation by members of the faculty," says Ohio State alumnus Carter Phillips. "I got to know the faculty well. It was a remarkable experience and definitely left an impression."

Carter Phillips `73, political science, has the distinction of having argued more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court as a private litigator than any other living lawyer. Even having clerked for former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, he still finds it goose bump-inducing to present to the nation's highest legal authority. But he does not go it alone in court; he brings a lucky buckeye with him every time.

"I pick up a new one before I go to court," said Carter, whose Washington, D.C., home has a Buckeye tree. "I feel like they are good luck and thought it would not be a bad thing to have in my pocket."

Carter, managing partner of D.C. law firm Sidley Austin LLP, has more than his buckeye backing him up. He completed his undergraduate degree at Ohio State in three years, with the bulk of his studies focused on international elections and international studies through the Mershon Center, a unit of the Office of International Affairs.

"I spent three years working in the Mershon Center as a student, and was encouraged to carry on my education after graduation by members of the faculty," he said. "I got to know the faculty well. It was a remarkable experience and definitely left an impression."

Because of his experience at Ohio State, Carter, a 2007 Ohio State Alumni Association Professional Achievement Award winner, says he wants to support the quality of the faculty as an alumnus. Recently, he and his wife, Sue Henry, committed $1 million to endow a professorship in the Department of Political Science. "They have done an extraordinary job in the department over the years, and I have a lot of faith in them, but the University needs to be able to change amid changing circumstances."

The Carter Phillips and Sue Henry Professorship in Political Science will support a professor of the department's choosing, providing broad selection flexibility. Carter refers to his gift as "seed money" to solidify and reinvigorate an area that is already sturdy, and to prevent professor "poaching" by other universities.

"We spent a long time talking to Dr. Gee about what is the most useful way to contribute to the department, and we came to the conclusion that a gift with the most flexibility was what they needed. I did not want to pre-judge what the best place would be for that donation, so we left it up to them to decide."

"The department is very strong in election law, foreign policy, and international relations, and if they want to take that to the top tier, that would be great with me. Or, they can use the endowment to select a professor working in another area that benefits the students."

Carter hopes that others will have the enthusiasm for Ohio State that compels them to make a contribution. "Giving is a great feeling. I'm not sure it compares to walking into the Supreme Court for the first time, but the day I signed the gift papers, it was definitely a rush!"

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