Behind Robes, Young Clerks Wield Influence at Supreme Court


In a Los Angeles Times commentary, author David J. Garrow writes, “The recent release of Justice Harry A. Blackmun’s private Supreme Court case files has starkly illuminated an embarrassing problem that previously was discussed only in whispers among court insiders and aficionados: the degree to which young law clerks, most of them just two years out of law school, make extensive, highly substantive and arguably inappropriate contributions to the decisions issued in their bosses’ names.”

Garrow says clerks have sometimes introduced partisan politics into the court’s work–once urging that an abortion ruling be issued before a presidential election, so that women could “vote their outrage” if Roe vs. Wade was reversed. Sometimes clerks’ unrestrained ideological biases were starkly evident, as when one referred to Justice Antonin Scalia as “evil Nino” in a memo. The clerks have become so important in large part because there are now so many of them, Garrow says. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist employs three clerks annually, but his eight colleagues have four apiece. In 1970, each justice had just two.


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