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3B Goes Bigtime

Maybe it’s partly because Ted Ayres played third base — aka the hot corner — growing up in Hamilton, Mo., but he was ready and willing to field rapid-fire questions before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981. He didn’t get there overnight. 

But almost. 

Ayres, JD ’72, started practicing higher education law at the University of Missouri in 1976. “Back then, people used to ask why a university needs its own lawyers. They don’t ask that any more,” Ayres says. Before long, a case the young Ayres had handled from the beginning reached the high court. In Widmar v. Vincent, the University of Missouri–Kansas City declared its facilities off limits to student groups for religious worship services. Ayres says the prohibition wasn’t anti-religious, it was just a public institution trying to keep clear the line between church and state. Thomas Jefferson would have approved, he says, but a student group sued. 

“We arrived in Washington to observe the court a day before our case came up, just to get a flavor of the proceedings,” Ayres says. “By coincidence it was Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s first day on the bench.” That much was thrilling, but the next day? “Extremely intimidating.” In only 30 minutes, lawyers for both sides had to present arguments and answer justices’ questions.

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