Supreme Court “justices definitely have ‘types’ when it comes to clerk hiring,” David Lat, the founder of the legal blog Above The Law who regularly reports on clerkship hiring, said in a recent tweet.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. often hires veterans, including his most recent hire, a “former Marine who served in Afghanistan,” Lat said.
And Justice Neil M. Gorsuch prefers to hire older clerks, Lat told Bloomberg Law.
So far, Gorsuch’s high court clerks have come to the court with more professional experience than their colleagues in other chambers.
And the justice’s latest hire of “a 2003 graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law” for the 2018 term “suggests that he will continue his habit of hiring seasoned lawyers as his law clerks,” Lat said.
The typical Supreme Court clerk “is a twentysomething graduate from the top of the class of a top law school, with just a few years of post-law school experience,” Lat said.
That experience can be “one or two prior clerkships or time in government or private practice,” he said. But it can sometimes be “as little as just a year in a prior clerkship.”
Gorsuch’s Supreme Court clerks, though, “usually have around a decade of post-law school experience—and some of them have had even more than that,” Lat said.
His first two rounds of clerks—those for the 2016 and 2017 terms—had an average of 9 years between them and law school.
They had “tons of other valuable work experience outside clerking,” Lat wrote in 2017. “For example, several worked in the Justice Department,” including in the Office of Legal Counsel, the Office of Legal Policy, the National Security Division, and Solicitor General’s office as Bristow Fellows.
Set Up Chambers
Court watchers shouldn’t “read too much into the fact that he hired more experienced clerks for” his first two terms, Jason Murray, of Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP, Denver, told Bloomberg Law. Murray clerked for Gorsuch when he was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, and then at the Supreme Court in Justice Elena Kagan’s chambers.
Many new Supreme Court justices will hire clerks with more experience, especially “former Supreme Court law clerks for their first one or two terms on the job,” Murray said. These “clerks have recent experience with how a Supreme Court chambers is run and can help the new justice set up chambers procedures and settle into the job.”
Murray said he “wouldn’t be surprised to see Justice Gorsuch revert to more typical law clerk hiring practices in the next couple years.”
Gorsuch’s latest hire, though, continues the emphasis on experience. He hired Tobi Young, who is currently the General Counsel and Board Secretary at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas.
She first met Gorsuch while working at the Department of Justice more than a decade ago, according to an April 13 press release. “Gorsuch was Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General, where he oversaw the Civil Rights Division and other areas of civil litigation, while Young, a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law, started out as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division,” the release said.
Young is also thought to be the first enrolled citizen of a Native American tribe to clerk at the high court.
Partners & Professors
Older, more experienced clerks aren’t unheard of at the Supreme Court. But they are uncommon, Lat said.
“Some clerks have come to the Court after stints as law firm partners or law school professors,” he said.
The oldest “Supreme Court clerk in the modern era” appears to be “William Hodes, a 1969 graduate of Rutgers Law School,” Lat said. Hodes “was hired by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to clerk for her in the 1996-1997 Term—meaning he was probably around 50 years old at the time.”
One downside to hiring older clerks is that they are further from the “legal academy and to the cutting-edge ideas about the law being developed there,” Lat said.
On the other hand, the “main benefit of hiring an experienced law clerk is exactly that—experience,” Lat said. “These clerks will handle cases with the benefit of the practical knowledge they have acquired during their years outside of law school.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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