Nine Clerks for Nine Justices in 2021-2022, Marking New Alumni Clerkship Record at the Supreme Court

US Supreme Court
Photo by Joe Ravi via Wikimedia Commons

Note: This story was updated on April 29, 2021, to reflect a new total of eight alumni clerking on the Supreme Court in the 2021  term and then again on June 2, 2021 to reflect a total of nine.

Nine University of Chicago Law School alumni will clerk for nine justices on the US Supreme Court in the October 2021 term—a banner year that marks the first time nine alumni have clerked on the Court simultaneously and that more than seven justices have employed Law School alumni at once. This term, seven Law School alumni are clerking on Supreme Court.

Christina Gay
Christina Gay

During the coming term, Christina Gay, ’20, will clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts; Elizabeth Nielson, '19, will clerk for retired Justice Anthony Kennedy; Manuel Valle, ’17, will clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas; Joel Wacks, ’18, will clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer; Elliot Gaiser, ’16, will clerk for Justice Samuel Alito; Andrew Waks, ’19, will clerk for Justice Elena Kagan; John Henry Thompson, ’18, will clerk for Justice Neil Gorsuch; Sarah Welch, ’19, will clerk for Justice Brett Kavanaugh; and Michael Heckmann, ’16, will clerk for Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

“I had the honor of teaching eight of these alumni when they were students at Chicago. They’re a remarkable group of people, just as kind and resilient as they are brilliant and eloquent,” said Lior Strahilevitz, the Sidley Austin Professor of Law, who co-chairs the faculty clerkship committee with Jonathan Masur, the John P. Wilson Professor of Law. “This is a fabulous group of students, all of whom I remember well for both their excellence in class and their warmth and generosity outside of it.”

Elizabeth Nielson
Elizabeth Nielson

The Law School has had at least one graduate clerking on the Supreme Court for at least part of every term since 1972, and in 39 of the past 49 years, two or more clerks on the Supreme Court have been alumni of the Law School. In 17 of those years, four or more Supreme Court clerks have been Chicago alumni—including in 1993, when there were eight, and in 1994, when there were seven alumni clerking for seven different justices.

This term, seven alumni are clerking for four justices. Madeline Lansky, ’16, and Nick Harper, ’15, are clerking for Barrett; Patrick Fuster, ’18, is clerking for Roberts; Krista Perry, ’16, and James Burnham, ’09, are clerking for Gorsuch; and Amy Upshaw, ’16, and Philip Cooper, ’17, are clerking for Thomas.

Manuel Valle
Manuel Valle

There were four alumni clerks in the October 2019 term, when Mica Moore, ’17, clerked for Kagan; Kelly Holt, ’17, and Stephen Yelderman, ’10, clerked for Gorsuch; and Caroline Cook, ’16, clerked for Thomas.

We’re thrilled that such a broad and diverse group of superb students have been hired to clerk on the Supreme Court, and we’re thrilled as well that they’ve been hired by such a broad range of justices,” said Masur. “This reflects the fact that there is not one model for success here. This school can be a springboard to great things for any of our students.”

Strahilevitz shared his delight at the prospect of so many Maroons getting to work together for the Court.

Joel Wacks
Joel Wacks

“Seeing 20 different Chicago alumni clerking at the Supreme Court in the span of three years is a testament to all the great work that’s happening in our classrooms and clinics, and to our admissions team’s eye for talent,” Strahilevitz said. “It’s tremendously satisfying to watch beloved former students serving the country and the legal profession in this way.”

Currently, Gay is clerking for Judge Britt Grant on the Eleventh Circuit. During her time at the Law School, she was a Kirkland & Ellis Scholar, a member of the Order of the Coif, a member of the University of Chicago Law Review, and involved in Lawyers in the Classroom.

Nielson is currently clerking for Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the Sixth Circuit. She also has clerked for Justice Thomas Lee of the Utah Supreme Court. During her time at the Law School, she was the book review and symposium editor for The University of Chicago Law Review. Her dad, Howard Nielson, ’97, a judge on the US District Court for the District of Utah, clerked for Kennedy in 1998.

Andrew Waks
Andrew Waks

Valle, currently a litigation associate in the Washington, DC, office of Sidley Austin LLP, has clerked for Judge Joan Larsen of the Sixth Circuit and Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit. During his time at the Law School, he was a Rubenstein Scholar and served as the book review and symposium editor for The University of Chicago Law Review.

Wacks, an associate at Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP in San Francisco, previously clerked for Judge Charles Breyer of the US District Court for the Northern District of California and Judge Margaret McKeown of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. During his time at the Law School, he was a Rubenstein Scholar, a Kirkland & Ellis Scholar, a member of the Order of the Coif, and the executive topics & comments editor for The University of Chicago Law Review.

Elliot Gaiser
Elliot Gaiser

Gaiser, an associate at Boyden Gray & Associates in Washington, DC, previously clerked for Judge Edith Jones of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Judge Neomi Rao, ’99, of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. During his time at the Law School, Gaiser earned the Llewellyn Cup for excellence in brief writing and oral argument in the Hinton Moot Court Competition, received a Bradley Fellowship, served as vice president and chair of the Otis Award for the Federalist Society, and was a member of the Edmund Burke Society.

Waks, who is clerking for Judge David Tatel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, previously clerked for Judge Gary Feinerman of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. During Law School, Waks was a Rubenstein Scholar, a Kirkland & Ellis Scholar, a member of the Order of the Coif, and a comments editor for The University of Chicago Law Review.

John Henry Thompson
John Henry Thompson

Thompson, who will complete a one-year term as a Bristow Fellow in the US Solicitor General’s Office this summer, has clerked for Judge Thomas Griffith of the DC Circuit and Judge Diane Sykes of the Seventh Circuit. During his time at the Law School, he was a Kirkland & Ellis Scholar and a member of the Order of the Coif, the Federalist Society, and the University of Chicago Law Review. He also won the Sidley Austin Prize for Excellence in Brief Writing in the Bigelow Moot Court Competition.

Welch, who is clerking for now-Chief Judge William Pryor on the Eleventh Circuit, previously clerked for Judge Jeffrey Sutton on the Sixth Circuit. She has also been a Phillips Fellow in the US Solicitor General’s Office. During her time at the Law School, she was a Kirkland & Ellis Scholar, a member of Order of the Coif, and an articles editor on the University of Chicago Law Review, the external vice president of the Federalist Society, and a recipient of the Mulroy Prize for Excellence in Appellate Advocacy in the Hinton Moot Court competition.

Michael Heckmann
Michael Heckmann
Sarah Welch
Sarah Welch

Heckmann, who is an associate in the Washington, DC, office of Latham & Watkins, has clerked for Judge Stanley Marcus of the Eleventh Circuit and previously clerked for Barrett when she was a judge on the Seventh Circuit. He has also worked at Cleary Gottlieb in Washington, DC. During his time at the Law School, he was the managing online editor for The University of Chicago Law Review and a member of the Law Students Association.

Read more about the Law School’s clerkship hiring record in “The Best Postdoc You Could Ever Have: Behind the Law School’s Rising Clerkship Numbers.”