Supreme Court clerks are the ultimate status symbols for law firms that do appellate work. But luring one of the 39 lawyers who have spent a year behind the scenes at the high court isn’t cheap. And now that the court’s term is over, the battle is on for the outgoing clerks.
The signing bonus for clerks at major firms is $280,000. Most start at the third-year-associate level or higher, bringing their base salaries close to $200,000. Not including the vast resources firms dedicate to training them, that means each is a nearly half-million-dollar gamble—and not a very safe one. Clerks are intellectuals who often have higher-minded goals than billing thousands of hours at a firm. Many have their sights set on academia or government service, but Ivy League educations come with debt that only a signing bonus can instantly alleviate. So how can a law firm ensure it’s betting on a clerk who will stick around? It can’t.
Already, some recently hired clerks have left their firms. Elbert Lin, who clerked for Clarence Thomas during the court’s 2010-11 term, joined Wiley Rein. He’d previously been an associate there, so in theory he was among the safer bets. Alas, Lin departed earlier this year to become West Virginia’s solicitor general. “You never know about those things,” says the firm’s chairman, Richard Wiley. “You have to take your chances.”
Lin says he was “a little nervous” about leaving because he’d made a commitment. “You want to feel like you’re a person of integrity,” he says. But he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to “take on a significant leadership role” in West Virginia.
Keith Bradley, who clerked for Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2010-11, worked at WilmerHale for less than a year before leaving for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In an e-mailed statement, WilmerHale co-managing partner Robert Novick said the firm “supports and applauds” its attorneys who choose to serve in government. Still, the premature departures must sting, especially because Lin and Bradley didn’t even get the chance to handle actual Supreme Court matters for their firms, as former clerks are barred from practicing at the high court for two years.
Though some law-firm leaders grumble about the expense and risk of hiring clerks, others insist they’re a wise investment. Neal Katyal, who co-heads the Supreme Court practice at Hogan Lovells, says clerks do “extraordinary” work and clients love them. This might be easy for him to say, as the three he hired last year all remain at Hogan.
This article appears in the August 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
When Barack Obama made Sonia Sotomayor the first Supreme Court pick of his presidency in 2009, court watchers knew that the relatively young, first-ever Latina justice would bring new energy to One First Street. But no one could have predicted how much she’d shake things up.
Says Tom Goldstein, a cofounder of SCOTUSblog: “She’s breaking the mold and lighting it on fire.”
With the high court wrapping up its term this month, it’s clear Sotomayor had her most exciting year in Washington yet. Here are the highlights.
• She bought a stylish pad in one of the District’s coolest neighborhoods. By trading her Cleveland Park rental for a $660,000 condo in the U Street corridor, Sotomayor solidified her standing as the hippest member of the bench. Her colleagues have settled in much more staid locales. For instance, Ruth Bader Ginsburg lives in the Watergate, and John Roberts and Antonin Scalia commute from Chevy Chase and McLean, respectively.
• While Supreme Court justices are notoriously private, Sotomayor has embraced DC nightlife. She’s been spotted at trendy restaurants such as Ardeo & Bardeo and Posto. And earlier this spring, she celebrated with chef José Andrés at the 20th-anniversary bash for his Penn Quarter eatery Jaleo.
• Thanks to the release of her memoir, My Beloved World, Sotomayor hung out with a lot of Hollywood types this year. She gave a joint book talk with actress Rita Moreno, who also has a new memoir, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall in March. She sat down with Oprah Winfrey, and she promoted her book in LA with former Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria.
• Sotomayor can tell you how to get to Sesame Street—because she made a guest appearance on the show in which she girl-talked with Muppet Abby Cadabby about becoming a doctor, engineer, or scientist instead of a princess.
• She big-timed the Vice President—sort of. When Joe Biden’s swearing-in for his second term conflicted with a Sotomayor book signing in New York, he rearranged his schedule to accommodate the justice. Biden didn’t seem to mind; he said having her administer the oath was “a wonderful honor.”
• After two days of arguments in this term’s landmark cases over the legality of same-sex marriage, Sotomayor emerged as a standout inquisitor. When she asked one of the attorneys opposing gay marriage whether he could think of any other scenario—such as refusing employment—in which a state could use sexual orientation to deny people benefits, he stammered for an answer before conceding he didn’t have one.
A version of this article appears in the June 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
Clarence Thomas likes to spend his breaks road-tripping in his RV. Newly sworn-in Elena Kagan lived much of the past few months in front of C-SPAN’s cameras. Their colleagues also kept busy.
Chief Justice John Roberts and his wife traveled the east coast of Australia, making stops in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Roberts was there to give lectures, but his wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, has personal ties to the country—she used to practice law in Melbourne.
For the 21st summer in a row, Anthony Kennedy went to Austria to teach students from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law studying abroad.
In a 1995 article for the University of Chicago Law Review, then-professor Elena Kagan called the Senate confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees a “vapid and hollow charade.” And after keeping at least one eye glued to C-SPAN for the better part of this week, I couldn’t agree more.
Kagan’s own hearings, which wrapped up Wednesday, were little more than an obligatory masquerade show. We all knew before they began that Kagan is a shoo-in for the high court. Despite the best efforts of her opponents to stir up controversy, no bombshells ever came out of the thousands upon thousands of memos and e-mails she wrote in her early career. And though some groups on the right would have us believe that her college thesis indicated she was a Commie sympathizer, in reality it . . . well . . . didn’t.
Every step of the way, Kagan truly has proved to be the Teflon nominee.
Elena Kagan’s hearings start Monday. That means her opponents are busier than ever building the case against her confirmation.
Senator Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he wouldn’t rule out a filibuster of Kagan’s nomination.
So what’s the problem? For the past several weeks, the main complaint has been Kagan’s lack of previous judicial experience. But the GOP is shifting its strategy. Now Kagan detractors say she’s not worthy of the high court because she’s “a political operative."
Is it June 28 yet? Because the final days leading up to the start date of Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings are really dragging. Here are some interesting tidbits to mull over the weekend. But seriously, bring on those hearings!
The gargantuan document dump of memos and other papers from Kagan’s early career has so far turned up little of consequence. Maybe the release of 80,000 pages of e-mails later today will reveal something a bit juicier?
That’s not to say we haven’t learned anything from the paper trail. We now know, for instance, that as associate counsel in the White House, Kagan played a key role in defending President Clinton’s claim of attorney-client privilege when the Senate committee investigating Whitewater demanded notes from a meeting between his lawyers.
More and more of Elena Kagan’s paper trail is coming to light, and there’s still relatively little controversy to report. She remains on track to take her seat on the high court, but that’s not stopping critics from making a lot of noise.
Anti-abortion and other conservative groups are using the lead up to Kagan’s confirmation hearings to trumpet their agendas and rally the opposition. Liberal groups are getting a piece of the action, too.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has now had a full week to sift through the first wave of documents from Kagan’s early career released by the National Archives. And no surprise here—two senior Republican senators find some of her memos “troubling,” “disturbing,” and too political.
Another document dump is scheduled for today, but if the entirety of Kagan’s paper trail isn’t released soon, Senator Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, says he’ll ask to delay her hearings.
But the American public is on Kagan’s side, with nearly six in ten saying the Senate should confirm her.
We’re about three weeks away from Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings, and though some right-wing groups and Republican senators continue to throw barbs, she remains largely unscathed. There’s not a single “wise Latina” moment to report, and some observers are even deeming Kagan a snoozefest.
The New York Times, noting that a real fight over Kagan’s nomination has yet to materialize, dubs her “a kind of Teflon nominee.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Republicans aren’t still looking for potential bombshells. Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is still digging into Kagan’s ban on military recruiters while she was dean of Harvard Law School. The Republican lawmaker wants the Department of Defense to turn over by June 11 all records relating to recruiting efforts at Harvard Law during Kagan’s tenure.
Things are heating up on the Hill as the Senate prepares for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings. Here’s hoping everyone can take a breather over the Memorial Day recess.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee continue to press for the release of Kagan’s Clinton-era documents before the start of her hearings, scheduled for June 28. They say the fact that Kagan has no judicial experience makes her Clinton record that much more significant. So enjoy the holiday break, Senate Judiciary staffers, because you could soon be sifting through 168,000 pages of memos and e-mails.
As a senior at Princeton University in 1981, history major Elena Kagan wrote her thesis about socialism in New York City in the early 20th century. Surely that means that in 2010, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan must harbor socialist sympathies, right? In the buildup to her June confirmation hearings, that’s what some of her opponents would have you believe. In reality, Kagan’s senior paper, “To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933,” is largely an academic slog with no flavor of radicalism.