California Aggie Profiles Ashutosh Bhagwat '90

From the California Aggie:

When Professor Ashutosh Bhagwat of UC Davis’ School of Law was 26 years old, he was one of the 36 clerks for the United States Supreme Court Justices. Today, he teaches constitutional and administrative law, subjects that had great importance during his clerkship.

“I’m really interested in politics and policy,” Bhagwat said.

Bhagwat completed his undergraduate education at Yale, where he majored in history.  Following this, he moved to the University of Chicago’s Law School, where he graduated in 1990. The Federal Reserve was his next move, where he worked as a research assistant.

 From there, he moved back to Chicago for a clerkship position with Richard Posner, a justice on the Seventh Circuit Appellate Court. Posner is widely regarded as one of the fathers of law and economics, according to Bhagwat, and with him, Bhagwat gained experience for his next job.

At the Supreme Court, Bhagwat spent a year clerking for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who still serves. His clerkship responsibilities included researching issues and helping the Justice write opinions, which, according to Bhagwat, was a job that held some weight.

“Clerks had more influence in technical cases,” Bhagwat said. “You could actually convince the justices.”

Though he said that it is not rare for the Supreme Court justices to defer to the judgment of their clerks, they rarely do so on landmark cases, for which they are sure to draft their own opinions.

The clerking experience has traditionally been reserved for only a handful each year. Clerks are often young, a conscious decision by the justices, according to Bhagwat. Young clerks help the justices understand the newest trends in law, often displayed to students in school.

Bhagwat also said he believes that many justices hire clerks with little attention to political leanings, despite their own views. Hiring on this basis helps the justices keep an open mind to varying interpretations of laws.

“All the clerks were encouraged by Kennedy to come up with their own ideas,” Bhagwat said.

Bhagwat described his one year with the court as an incredible experience. He still keeps in touch with several of his co-clerks, and said that these close relationships were the most valuable part of the job for him.

“One of the coolest things about clerkships in general is that there’s a familial-like relationship … the [Justices] keep mentoring,” Bhagwat said.

Bhagwat’s clerkship played an important role in his job search.

“[Being a clerk] makes you an incredibly valuable commodity,” Bhagwat said. “It helped in getting my academic job.”

Before academia, Bhagwat worked at a law firm in Washington for two years, but said that the allure of teaching was stronger than that of private practice.

One [of the advantages of] teaching is you get to a much bigger range of things, you get to pick your topics … it’s a lot more freedom,” Bhagwat said.