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Kavanaugh's Clerk Hires: Inside the Diverse, Ivy-Heavy Group of 48

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Judge Brett Kavanaugh is nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ [/caption] With an affinity for Harvard and Yale law school graduates and an objective to recruit women and minorities, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has hired 48 law clerks as a circuit court judge, a cohort that is an important part of his career and persona. Nominees rarely boast about their clerks as their nominations are announced. But Kavanaugh did just that on July 9 at his White House debut. “As a judge, I hire four law clerks each year. I look for the best,” Kavanaugh told a nationwide audience. “My law clerks come from diverse backgrounds and points of view. I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women.” The National Law Journal collected the available data on Kavanaugh’s 48 clerks. Here are some of the findings. Gender diversity. As Kavanaugh stated, he has hired more women than men: 25 females and 23 men, to be exact. All four of his law clerks from 2014 to 2015 were women. And 21 of the women went on to Supreme Court clerkships. In a July 12 letter to Senate leaders, a group of Kavanaugh’s female former clerks wrote, “It is not an exaggeration to say that we would not be the professors, prosecutors, public officials, and appellate advocates we are today without his enthusiastic encouragement and unwavering support.” Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher associate Kathryn Cherry, an African-American woman who clerked for Kavanaugh from 2013 to 2014, said he was “very interested in making sure that we have a seat at the table. He thought it was important, even necessary.” She added, “He urged me to talk more.” Race and ethnicity. Thirteen of the 48 Kavanaugh clerks are minorities: five African Americans, six Asian Americans, and two Hispanics. All but four of the minority clerks have gone on to the Supreme Court, though two of those four are recent clerks whose plans are pending. As Kavanaugh told NLJ last year in an interview for a story on law clerk diversity, he has spoken often to black law student groups to interest them in clerkships. “A big part of it is demystifying the process, having a conversation about how it works, and encouraging the students to apply,” he said. Latham & Watkins partner Roman Martinez, a Hispanic who clerked for Kavanaugh in 2008, attributes Kavanaugh’s interest in diversity in part to his mother, who became a lawyer, prosecutor and judge. “He saw firsthand some of the stumbling blocks his mom faced,” Martinez said. [caption id="attachment_5965" align="alignnone" width="620"]

U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi/ NLJ [/caption] The justice network. From his start as judge in 2006, Kavanaugh became known as one of the top “feeder judges,” a prestigious position for him as well as his clerks. He sent 39 of his 48 clerks to the high court, including clerks hired for the upcoming term. Most have headed to the conservative-to-moderate end of the court, with Chief Justice Roberts Jr. hiring 13 of Kavanaugh’s clerks. Anthony Kennedy, for whom Kavanaugh clerked, took seven, Samuel Alito Jr. took five, Scalia hired four and Clarence Thomas just one. But not all of Kavanaugh’s clerks are conservative, and he sent two clerks to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, two to Elena Kagan, and one to Stephen Breyer. Ginsburg is the only member of the court not to have hired a Kavanaugh clerk. Why have so many Kavanaugh clerks gone on to the Supreme Court? Preparation seems to be part of the answer. “From the moment you are hired, you are part of his clerk family,” Martinez said. And for Kavanaugh that means thinking about what the clerk’s next stop will be and how to get there. Kavanaugh will help with the application and making recommendations. ”He’s very good at advising and supporting the people who have worked hard for him.” Martinez went on to clerk for Roberts. One former Kavanaugh clerk, Travis Lenkner, who would later clerk for Kennedy, described the preparation this way: "He put me through the ringer. I was mooted multiple times for the interview. He was pushing me to prepare as much as I could and in the right ways." The Ivy League clerk pipeline. Yale and Harvard law school graduates dominate clerkships at the U.S. Supreme Court—and clerkships for Kavanaugh. Of the high court nominee's 48 clerks, 19 went to Yale and 17 to Harvard. That's 75 percent from two Ivy League schools. Stanford and George Washington University sent two clerks each to Kavanaugh, and weighing in with one each were Duke, Georgetown, Chicago, Northwestern, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, and the University of Kansas. The lone former Kansas clerk is Lenkner, managing partner of Keller Lenkner, the Chicago-based plaintiffs litigation firm. Merrick Garland, the D.C. Circuit chief judge and a longtime Kavanaugh colleague, also drew his clerks primarily—70 percent of the time—from Harvard and Yale. Stanford Law School held the third slot, according to a National Law Journal analysis in 2016, when Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court. Lenkner challenges any criticism of Kavanaugh's hiring of clerks primarily from Harvard and Yale. "That is also a familiar critique of the Supreme Court," he said. "A response is 'yes,' but those schools themselves recruit from all walks of life and backgrounds and it's how you have a Supreme Court with Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor. That’s true of the judge's law clerks as well. It's an interesting and dynamic group. This is not a homogenous group." Kavanaugh's clerks have varied life experiences before and after their clerkships. Zoe Bedell, for instance, a former active duty Marine captain who served in Afghanistan, was a plaintiff in a American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging the ban on women in combat. After leaving active duty, she worked as a financial analyst at an investment bank before heading to Harvard Law. She clerked for Kavanaugh in 2016-17 and then for Justice Elena Kagan last term. Life after Brett: Where Kavanaugh's clerks went. Former Kavanaugh clerks have found homes in government, academia, law firms and business. The largest group—15—went into government positions. There are six assistant U.S. attorneys and one U.S. attorney: John Bash in the Western District of Texas. One prosecutor, Candice Wong, is on detail at the White House to help assist in Kavanaugh's confirmation. Twelve former clerks joined law firms, either as partners or associates. Those firms include Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr; Jenner & Block; Jones Day; Williams & Connolly; Keller Lenkner; Latham & Watkins; Hogan Lovells; Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, and Holwell Shuster & Goldberg. There are three law professors: Justin Walker of the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law; Jennifer Mascott of the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School; and Richard Re of the UCLA School of Law. Only one former clerk went on to become a judge—Britt Grant of the Georgia Supreme Court, whose nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is pending Senate confirmation. Here's what some of the other clerks are up to now: Amit Argawal is Florida's solicitor general. Claire McCusker Murray, formerly a Kirkland & Ellis partner, is a White House associate counsel, and she's helping the Trump administration push Kavanaugh's confirmation. Philip Alito, son of Justice Samuel Alito Jr., is a staff lawyer on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Porter Wilkinson is chief of staff for the Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Adam Klein, a former Scalia clerk, is now senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Sarah Pitlyk is special counsel to the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm advocating for life, family and religious liberty. Zac Hudson is one of the few clerks who's gone in-house. Hudson is general counsel to Afiniti Inc., which uses artificial intelligence to help companies pair their sales forces with customers. Hudson, a former clerk to Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who served as an engineering officer on the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear powered fast attack submarine, before attending Yale law school. "Policy and politics do not alter his approach to judging. This country would be fortunate to have Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice,” Hudson said in statement the White House posted. Read more:Kavanaugh's Female Clerks Tout His Advocacy for Female LawyersYale's Akhil Amar Would Testify for Kavanaugh If AskedMostly White and Male: Diversity Still Lags Among SCOTUS Law ClerksWho Are the Supreme Court's Biggest Feeder Judges?The Select 75: A Portrait of Merrick Garland's Law Clerks