Geof Stone, "The Difference Between Conservative and Liberal Justices"

The Difference Between Conservative and Liberal Justices

This is just a tidbit, but it is revealing. Each Justice of the United States Supreme Court has four law clerks. Law clerks are recent law school graduates who serve for one year as a legal assistant to a Supreme Court Justice. Law clerks are very important to the work of the Court. In each chamber, the Justice and the four clerks form a close-knit intellectual family. It is with their law clerks that Justices are able to speak openly and to engage in a candid give-and-take, testing ideas, theories and approaches as they consider the merits of each case. Moreover, in most chambers the law clerks play a central role in preparing drafts of a Justice's opinions.

I know this not only from my students who have gone on over the years to clerk for one or another of the Justices, and not only from my many conversations with individual Justices, but also from personal experience, because I had the great privilege of serving as a law clerk to Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. during the Court's 1972-1973 Term.

I was curious about how the current Justices select their clerks. All Supreme Court law clerks these days spend at least one year before clerking on the Supreme Court as a law clerk to a lower court judge, usually a judge on a United States Court of Appeals. In this way, they gain useful experience to prepare them for the task ahead.

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