No internship program in American history has produced a more extensive collection of leaders as the corps of U.S. Supreme Court law clerks.
Five Supreme Court Justices. Two Secretaries of State. Two U.S. Attorneys General. The Solicitor General of the United States. Two Commissioners of the F.C.C. The Chairman of U.S. Steel. The head of the Department of Transportation. The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. The publisher of the Washington Post, and the President of ABC news.*
Three members of the current Court – Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justices Kagan and Breyer – also clerked.
Each Justice receives hundreds of qualified applications per year from candidates with top grades and compelling personal stories. But only a fortunate 36 receive the most coveted credential in American law: a Supreme Court clerkship.
So how are these clerks selected and what are their duties?
The applicant should have attended, and done very well, in a tier-one law school. He or she should have also had a prominent position on the school’s law review and demonstrated the ability to get along with the Justice and his or her three other law clerks. Most Justices prefer that the applicant have had a year’s experience clerking with a state or federal appellate judge (some Justices even have “feeder” judges who consistently place clerks on the Supreme Court).
Though the Court keeps its internal operating procedures confidential, we know that law clerks have a significant impact on a Term’s caseload.
They share much of a Justice’s work and can influence his or her thinking. By wading through the cert. pool to make recommendations about which cases the Court should consider, a clerk operates in concert with his or her Justice.
Under the pooling arrangement, copies of all petitions for certiorari and opposition briefs ready for consideration by the Court are sent on a weekly basis to all nine chambers. The Chief Justice’s chambers then randomly divides the week’s certiorari petitions … into batches of 10 petitions and sends an assignment sheet to each of the eight chambers in the pool