From the Left



Justice Stevens taught me how to write and think like a lawyer

Susan Estrich on

I was blessed.

On my first day as his law clerk on the D.C. Circuit, Judge J. Skelly Wright, who had hired me sight unseen when I was elected president of the Harvard Law Review, told me that Justice Brennan would not do the same. True, he always hired Judge Wright's Harvard clerk sight unseen, and he had never passed on a Harvard Law Review president. But they were all men. It was nothing personal, the judge informed me; he just didn't hire women.

Which is how I came to be clerking for the Supreme Court's most junior member, Justice John Paul Stevens, a Republican appointee whose confirmation was opposed by the National Organization for Women. As best I could tell, he had never had a woman clerk either. But he didn't care.

It was an experiment, he explained to me when I went on my interview. The other justices each had three or four clerks. But when he clerked for Justice Jackson, there were only two clerks, and since he did many of the first drafts himself (which no other justice did), he wanted to try it with two.

Was I game?

I figured it might be the only game I was asked to play.


I was game.

No one had done it since Justice Jackson, and no one has done it since. As it turned out, I think Jim and I were the luckiest clerks in a long line of very lucky young lawyers. We learned from the best. And the wisest. But we didn't know it then, or at least I didn't.

I had just spent a year with Judge Wright, rekindling all my liberal passions after two years trying to play it down the middle at the law review. The reason NOW opposed Justice Stevens was because of a "bad" opinion he'd written about married stewardesses. He was in favor of requiring minor girls to have parental consent to get an abortion. What if I had to work on opinions like that, for the United States Supreme Court, no less? How could I do my best job if it was my job to justify discrimination?

I needn't have worried. I never did. Quite the contrary.


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