Supreme Court Clerk Hiring Watch: Meet The October Term 2022 SCOTUS Clerks
Folks seeking greater diversity in the ranks of Supreme Court clerks won't love this clerk class.
Welcome to Original Jurisdiction, the latest legal publication by me, David Lat. You can learn more about Original Jurisdiction by reading its About page, and you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a reader-supported publication; you can subscribe by clicking on the button below. Thanks!
What can Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson expect as she begins her tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court? In a recent New York Times article, Adam Liptak set out to answer this question. I spoke with him for the piece, opining as follows:
She’s entering the court at a time of just crazy polarization after a very momentous term and after this huge leak from the spring. I’m sure her colleagues will be very welcoming to her, but there may just be a lot more circumspection around the building. It could be a little weird.
In an excellent framing for his article, Liptak compared the Term just ended, October Term 2021, to the Term when KBJ clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer, October Term 1999. There are striking similarities and differences between the two judicial years. For example, both featured cases on school prayer, abortion, and Miranda—but in OT 1999, conservatives went 0-3, and in OT 2021, conservatives went 3-0.
There’s a new sheriff in town at 1 First Street. And there’s a new set of clerks at the Supreme Court, since July is the traditional month for the changing of the clerk guard.
I mentioned that things “could be a little weird” for Justice Jackson—and the same could be said for the new clerks. As a reader of mine who clerked for the Court suggested, even if justices “will always want to trust and protect their own clerks,” in the wake of the Dobbs leak “they will have far less faith in the clerks of nonaligned chambers.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the Court institutes new security measures for law clerks, such as limits on taking work product outside the building. If the Court is willing to ask clerks for cellphone records, it’s not crazy to imagine the Court, say, limiting the use of personal cellphones inside the building.
Despite any added tension at 1 First Street, a Supreme Court clerkship is still a great experience, as well as a privilege and honor for a young (or not so young) lawyer. Who will be the lucky women and men clerking for SCOTUS in the upcoming Term?
The Court’s Public Information Office kindly provided me with the official list of Supreme Court clerks for October Term 2022, i.e., the Term officially starting on the first Monday of this October. This list has just their names, but I have the clerks’ law school and prior clerkship info courtesy of my own sources; I just used the Court’s official list of OT 2022 clerks to confirm that my names are accurate (which they are).
Before providing you with the names, I’ll offer some big-picture analysis, with a focus on the demographics of the OT 2022 clerk class:
1. Gender. The OT 2022 class contains 38 clerks—four for each active justice, plus one each for retired Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer (who will work in the chambers of an active justice in addition to assisting their retired bosses with various projects). Of the 38 clerks, 25 are men and 13 are women, making for a class that’s 66 percent male and 34 percent female.
In the past five Terms, we’ve seen more gender balance in clerk classes, with last year’s class almost evenly split, 51 percent male and 49 percent female. The new class is the least balanced class since OT 2017, which was also about two-thirds male, and it’s a throwback to the first twelve years of the Roberts Court (2005-2017), a period in which only a third of clerks were women.
All nine of the active justices have at least one female clerk, as does retired Justice Breyer. But only three active justices—Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Brett Kavanaugh, and Ketanji Brown Jackson—have two female clerks. (Justice Kavanaugh has been a leader for diversity in clerk hiring: he’s the only justice in history to have had an all-female clerk class—he’s already had two such classes, OT 2021 and OT 2018—and he’s also a leader in hiring clerks of color, as discussed below.) [UPDATE (1:51 p.m.): The preceding paragraph was revised to reflect that Justice Breyer’s clerk, Kyle Edwards, is a woman. My initial count of 13 women remains correct; I just mistakenly stated, in since-deleted text, that both retired justices hired male clerks.]
2. Race/ethnicity. As Tony Mauro, the foremost authority on SCOTUS clerk diversity (or lack thereof), explained last year in the National Law Journal, “The Supreme Court does not release any information about the race or ethnicity of law clerks. As a result, it is a risky business to guess the demographics of clerks.” One must resort to making educated guesses based on last names, profiles, photos found on the internet, and similar information.
So this is guesswork on my part, but it appears that two clerks are Black, Kerrel Murray (Jackson) and Cameron Pritchett (Kavanaugh); two are Hispanic, Alejandra Ávila (Sotomayor) and Isabel Marin (Kavanaugh); and two are Asian, Samir Doshi (Roberts) and Michael Qian (Jackson). Again, it’s possible I’m missing some clerks of color; please email me at email@example.com with any errors or omissions, and I will correct the web version of this post. (Much to my chagrin, I can’t correct errors in my newsletter emails after they go out.)
3. Feeder schools. The OT 2022 clerk class is not diverse in terms of gender, not diverse in terms of race/ethnicity, and not diverse in terms of law schools. The 38 clerks came from just ten law schools, down from twelve schools for OT 2021. Here’s the ranking, with the number of clerks noted parenthetically:
Scalia GMU (2)
Notre Dame (1)
Despite all the recent drama, Yale Law remains #1 when it comes to minting SCOTUS clerks, with a whopping twelve clerks—almost a third of all clerks, and the same number it had last Term. But remember that there’s a lag time in terms of developments at a school getting reflected in clerk placement, since most SCOTUS clerks get hired far in advance. Based on his analysis of recent law clerk hiring by lower-court judges, Professor Derek Muller has concluded that “federal judges have already begun to drift away from hiring Yale Law clerks,” but we’ll have to wait a few years before seeing if this translates into fewer Yalies at SCOTUS.
In OT 2021, Chicago had nine clerks at SCOTUS, enough to bump Harvard, the usual #2, down into third place. But in OT 2022, Harvard and Stanford are #2 and #3, with eight and seven SCOTUS clerks, respectively. Chicago is at #4, with three clerks—entirely respectable, but not the bumper crop it enjoyed last year.
Also note that the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University has an impressive two clerks at the Court this Term. Scalia Law has been trying to position itself in the market as a conservative law school, and it seems to be paying off in terms of improved clerkship placement. As conservative judges tell me, they can’t find enough strong conservative clerkship candidates, given how liberal most law students are—so a school that attracts and produces conservative graduates will punch above its weight (or U.S. News rank) when it comes to clerkships.
The two Scalia Law grads at SCOTUS are clerking for the two most conservative members of the Court, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. And don’t be shocked if Crystal Clanton—the Scalia Law grad accused of racism who’ll be clerking in 2023 for Chief Judge William Pryor, a leading feeder judge—winds up in Justice Thomas’s chambers down the road, given that Justice Thomas recommended her to Chief Judge Pryor.
4. Feeder judges. Forty-three different judges sent clerks to the Court this Term, compared to 46 in OT 2021 and 39 in OT 2020. Here are the 15 feeder judges with more than one clerk at the Court for OT 2022, with the number of clerks noted parenthetically:
K. Jackson (3)
Boasberg (D.D.C.) (3)
W. Pryor (2)
Nathan (S.D.N.Y.) (2)
5. Miscellaneous observations:
Of the top-five feeder judges for OT 2022, three of them—Chief Judge Jeffrey Sutton (6th Cir.), Judge Amul Thapar (6th Cir.), and Judge James Boasberg (D.D.C.)—are longtime feeders. See the feeder-judge rankings in Adam Feldman’s Empirical SCOTUS post from April or my post from last August.
Justice Jackson tops the list because she hired two former clerks of hers to join her at SCOTUS and placed a third with Justice Sotomayor. KBJ might continue to “feed” if she brings up more ex-clerks of hers, as some justices have done over the years—most notably Justice Alito, who seemed to bring back a vast number of his former clerks, and also Justice Gorsuch to a lesser degree. But to the extent that law students and young lawyers use these rankings to figure out which judges to apply to if they aspire to clerk for SCOTUS, Justice Jackson is no longer in the mix.
Judge Raymond Lohier (2d Cir.), also in the top five for this Term, is one to watch. He has sent clerks to SCOTUS in the past, placing three clerks at the Court between OT 2017 and OT 2021, but placing three clerks in a single Term sends him to the next level. Someone call Tyra Banks—we might be looking at America’s Next Top Feeder Judge.
This list of top feeder judges reflects the current dominance of conservatives at SCOTUS, since conservative justices tend to hire from conservative lower-court judges. Of the 15 judges listed above, nine (60 percent) are Republican appointees.
Justices usually hire from a mix of lower-court judges. But it’s interesting to see that Justice Alito has two clerks from Judge Thomas Hardiman (3d Cir.), a fellow conservative who sits on Justice Alito’s former court; Justice Kagan has two clerks from Judge James Boasberg (D.D.C.); and Justice Gorsuch has two clerks from Judge Frank Easterbrook (7th Cir.). (For detailed analysis of which combinations of law schools and lower-court judges feed into the chambers of which justices, see Feldman’s Empirical SCOTUS post.)
For better or worse, completing multiple lower-court clerkships before arriving at SCOTUS continues to be popular. Of the 38 clerks for OT 2022, more than 70 percent clerked for two or more judges pre-SCOTUS (and some even clerked for three).
Kelley Schiffman’s name might ring a bell for some of you because she appeared on the OT 2021 clerk list. I previously reported that one of Justice Sotomayor’s clerks from OT 2021 had to leave the clerkship early and was replaced by Steven Marcus in January 2022. Upon information and belief, Schiffman was the clerk in question, and Justice Sotomayor has brought her back so she can experience some of what she missed. (Schiffman did miss the epic craziness of The Leak, but at least she can’t be accused of being the leaker, since she left before February, when Justice Alito’s leaked Dobbs draft was initially circulated.)
Okay, this should suffice for now. I have some fun tidbits about some of the clerks hired for OT 2023 and beyond, but I’ll save them for a future write-up.
For subscribers to Original Jurisdiction, I’ve provided updated SCOTUS clerk hiring lists below—not just the October Term 2022 list, whose names have been checked against the Court’s official list, but clerk hires for future Terms as well, which have not yet been verified by SCOTUS (but I have a fairly good track record on this).
Please help me maintain my track record. If you have hiring news that I have not yet reported or any updates or corrections, please reach out by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or text (917-397-2751). Be sure to include the words “SCOTUS Clerk Hiring” in your email or text message, perhaps as the subject line of your email or the first words of your text, to help me locate these tips in my inbox. Thanks!
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Original Jurisdiction to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.