Ziffren (Warren 1965-66): I got to be friendly
with Justice William O. Douglas. I would go on
walks with him and his clerk. He was very big on
conservation and nature, and told us old stories
about his career—about his time in D.C. in the ’30s
The clerks wrote certs, researched
precedents, helped draft opinions.
Ziffren (Warren 1965-66): There was a
labor case that was decided 5-4, and the Chief
decided to write the decision. I discussed the
case with him and he gave me his approach and
guidelines, and I followed those. We circulated
it, and when it came back it was 9-0. I was very,
Gooding (Blackmun 1970-71): At the
beginning of the term, Justice Blackmun wrote
most of his own opinions from scratch. But as
the term progressed and the workload increased,
he began having his clerks prepare first drafts.
The workload was staggering, and the days were
long, but it was immensely satisfying.
Dovel (Scalia 1987-88): Scalia would
go through the briefs, then he’d gather the
“clerkerati” to his office to debate the case merits
before oral arguments. The goal was always to
find the right answer. At that time, Scalia was still
working out his basic approaches to issues. In that
process, he was adamant that the court couldn’t
make the law; it had to apply it as written.
The Supreme Court is often bitterly
divided, with justices issuing
blistering dissents. Did that carry over
into personal interactions?
Levin (Ginsburg 2004-05): Even in cases that
split 5-4 along ideological lines, I didn’t see
much evidence of factionalism.
Haddad (Brennan 1986-87): Brennan and
Rehnquist were often on the opposite side of
cases, and Rehnquist had just become chief
justice; so we thought there might be tension or
frustration on Brennan’s part. When the justices
return after summer break, they have “The Long
Conference” where they go through two to
3,000 cert petitions. It routinely takes three to
four days. After the first day of the conference,
Brennan said, “This new chief is gonna be great!
We practically got through the entire conference
list today. He’s so efficient!”
Dovel (Scalia 1987-88): I was working on this
case, and we needed Justice White’s vote. Scalia
said, “Let’s just give him a call.” He dials the
number. “Byron, this is Nino. Uh-huh. Uh-HUH!
Well, then bleep you!” I’m in shock. Open-mouthed. How do I disappear from this room?
Then Scalia smiles and says, “He didn’t pick up.
Let’s try him later.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
The Supreme Court largely operates out
of the range of the public, so its inner
workings are still shrouded in mystery.
What surprised the clerks most?
John Spiegel, Munger, Tolles & Olson;
Securities Litigation, Business Litigation
(Byron White 1976-77): The informality of the
court. You could bring a friend to walk around,
visit the chambers. ... The justices had small
staffs, there were only a few guards. It was such
a small operation for something so important
for our government and society. Now, of course,
there’s much more security.
Levin (Ginsburg 2004-05): How cordial the
justices were, even though they often split
ideologically. Also, that there was a basketball
court above the court, commonly called “the
highest court in the land.”
Brill (Ginsburg 1996-97): I was surprised that
several justices had no women law clerks, or only
one out of four. This was in 1996, when women
accounted for nearly half of law school graduates.
The number of minority law clerks was even lower.
BEHIND THE ROBES
The justices themselves were often
Haddad (Brennan 1986-87): Justice O’Connor
led aerobics classes in the mornings.
Helm (Burger 1983-84): Burger liked to do
gardening. We went over one weekend to help
him plant some flowers. He liked to drive himself
on weekends, but he wasn’t the best driver.
Spiegel (White 1976-77): White was the
leading ground gainer in the NFL his rookie
year and he was going to Yale. Who does that?
When I clerked, White was still in tremendous
physical shape. He had a rowing machine in
the basement of his house, and he’d watch NFL
games and row. He also played basketball with
us. He had legs like tree trunks, and giant hands.