The closed-door “training academy” was aimed at a select group: recent law school graduates who had secured prestigious clerkships with federal judges. It was organized by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group that has played a leading role in moving the courts to the right, and it had some unusual requirements.
“Generous donors,” the application materials said, were making “a significant financial investment in each and every attendee.” In exchange, the future law clerks would be required to promise to keep the program’s teaching materials secret and pledge not to use what they learned “for any purpose contrary to the mission or interest of the Heritage Foundation.”
The question of whether law clerks influence the judges they serve is a subject of longstanding debate, but it is no secret that law clerks routinely draft judicial opinions. A new study to be published in The Journal of Law, Economics & Organization found that law clerks do indeed play a role in judicial decision-making.
“On average, a justice would cast around 4 percent more conservative votes in a term in which she hired her most conservative clerks versus a term in which she hired her most liberal clerks,” said Maya Sen, a political scientist at Harvard and one of the authors of the study. “So shifting the ideology of all Supreme Court clerks in any one direction would be significant, and it would make sense for ideological organizations to target not just Supreme Court law clerks, but also law clerks throughout the judicial hierarchy.”
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