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Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk

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By Todd C. Peppers

Since the hiring of the first Supreme Court law clerk by Associate Justice Horace Gray in the late 1880s, court observers and the general public have demonstrated a consistent fascination with law clerks and the influence—real or imagined—that they wield over judicial decisions. While initially each Supreme Court justice hired a single clerk, today's justices can hire up to four new law school graduates. The justices have taken advantage of this resource, and in modern times law clerks have been given greater job duties and more responsibility. The increased use of law clerks has spawned a controversy about the role they play, and commentators have suggested that liberal or conservative clerks influence their justices' decision making. The influence debate is but one piece of a more important and largely unexamined puzzle regarding the hiring and utilization of Supreme Court law clerks. Courtiers of the Marble Palace is the first systematic examination of the "clerkship institution"—the web of formal and informal norms and rules surrounding the hiring and utilization of law clerks by the individual justices on the United States Supreme Court. Todd Peppers provides an unprecedented view into the work lives of and day-to-day relationships between justices and their clerks; relationships that in some cases have extended to daily breakfasts, games of competitive basketball and tennis, and occasional holiday celebrations. Through personal interviews with fifty-three former clerks and correspondence with an additional ninety, as well as personal interviews with a number of non-clerks, including Justice Antonin Scalia, Peppers has amassed a body of information that reveals the true inner-workings of the clerkship institution. With a Foreword by Professor Robert M. O'Neil of the University of Virginia School of Law, former President of the University of Virginia and former law clerk for Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.