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Garland's Clerks Go to Bat for Supreme Court Nominee

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Merrick Garland isn't just President Obama's nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court; he's one of the Court's most successful feeder judges, sending 42 of his clerks on to Supreme Court clerkships. That's more than half of the 71 clerks Garland has had since joining the federal bench in 1997. And even those who don't go on to clerk for the Supreme Court often retain a close and supportive relationship with Garland, former clerks say.

Now, Garland's clerks are seeking to return the favor, hoping to help the federal judge advance to the Supreme Court. Last Monday, 68 of his former clerks sent a letter to the Senate leadership urging them to act on Garland's nomination.

High Praises for Garland

In their letter to the Senate leadership, Garland's former clerks urge his confirmation to the Supreme Court. They laud the Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit for his "unwavering commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law," and the "decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness, and excellence" that earned Garland praise from the President and which his clerks "witnessed ... in chambers every day."

The clerks extolled Garland for his "unrelenting work ethic," which meant he "typically knew the record better than the clerk who was assigned to help him on the case, and often times better than the advocates themselves."

"There are not many bosses who so uniformly inspire the loyalty that we all feel toward Chief Judge Garland. Our enthusiasm is both a testament to his character and a reflection of his commitment to mentoring and encouraging us long after we left his chambers," Garland's clerks wrote.

And that loyalty appears to go both ways. Not only has Garland shepherded so many of his clerks up to the Supreme Court, he's officiated at seven of their weddings. "He looks out for his clerks," one former clerk tells Bloomberg, "and it is a relationship that continues long after the clerkship."

A Look at Garland's Loyal Clerks

Like other federal appellate court judges, Garland takes four law clerks a year, and his clerkship positions are some of the most prestigious in the judiciary, according to the National Law Journal. Taken together, the clerks "form a somewhat homogeneous drawing," the NLJ writes:

They are the standouts from only the most elite of law school classes, then the majority sail into U.S. Supreme Court clerkships and ride the fast track to law industry, government and intellectual success.

Almost all of Garland's clerks have graduated from law school at either Harvard, Yale, or Stanford. Almost all of them have gone on to great success. And more than 40 of them had career-making clerkships on the Supreme Court.

But for those who made it to the highest court in the land, there was at least a bit of political diversity. Garland is a feeder judge to justices of all political stripes, according to numbers put together by Bloomberg. His clerks go on to work from conservative justices like Chief Justice Roberts, who took three Garland clerks, the moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who took five, and liberals like Justice Breyer, who has taken 11 of Garland's former clerks.

But while Garland's former clerks are advocating for his seat on the Supreme Court bench, his potential colleagues are staying out of the debate. The justices have been unanimous in withholding comment on the nomination process, even as the political fight plays out all around them.

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