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What Code of Silence? Former US Supreme Court Clerk Tells All

By Andrew Lu | Last updated on

When a former Supreme Court clerk breaks the famed code of silence and dishes on the highest court, you'd expect a lot of dirt, right?

After all, in 1998, former Supreme Court clerk Edward Lazarus broke this code of silence and was excoriated by his peers when he published an account that detailed "wild gun battles" in court.

Jay Wexler's recent account of his time as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's clerk on will likely not make as many waves as Lazarus' account. In breaking the "code of silence," the former Supreme Court clerk gives you some humorous anecdotes as well as a mundane summary of what life as a clerk is really like.

For the serious stuff, Wexler provides a self-deprecating account of what clerks do. Wexler does acknowledge that clerks often write the first draft of Supreme Court decisions. However, Wexler also acknowledges that clerks were oftentimes given detailed outlines on what to put in their drafts and so had very little discretion. And even after following the outlines, Wexler emphasized that the justices will often completely rewrite the opinion anyway.

Along with writing opinions, Wexler said that the major job for clerks was to write "cert opinions" or opinions on whether or not the court should hear a particular case. If not in a Supreme Court setting, Wexler made the job seem a lot like any junior attorney job -- filled with lots of research and writing -- under the intense scrutiny of an intense superior.

As for the funny stuff, Wexler tells of a time that he made Clarence Thomas laugh over an orange juice joke and needing to get dressed up just to have an opportunity to eat with Anthony Kennedy (he didn't dress up, and didn't eat with Justice Kennedy).

So Jay Wexler broke the Supreme Court clerk code of silence and what did we learn? That a Supreme Court clerkship isn't a whole lot different from your own boring job.

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