Federalist Society and Clerkships

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Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby LurkerTurnedMember » Mon Jun 12, 2017 4:55 pm

I recently had a chat with a friend about the impact membership in the federalist society has on clerkship applications. We graduated a few years ago and both noticed that the Federalist Society has seemingly gotten well connected recently, even more so than before. Even outside of law school I notice they're having events everywhere and they're connecting each other to jobs like crazy. Judge Thapar is big in it allegedly and got moved up to the 6th circuit, Justice Gorsuch similarly apparently. And I've heard some conservative judges look out for it on the resume. On the other hand, the American Constitution Society can't seem to get its members to open up the ACS emails let alone provide similar networking.

Does anyone else have a more informed opinion? The above is basically based on our anecdotal evidence and we were generalizing. But does the fed society really provide a substantial boost? Would it be worth joining even if you don't share a single view just for the networking? Have people had good experiences with ACS on the other hand?

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Mon Jun 12, 2017 5:18 pm

I feel like part of the value of the Federalist Society is signaling a particular political POV in a field often considered to lean liberal. The ACS doesn't really serve a similar purpose as there are lots of other ways to signal liberal interests (Outlaw [not that all LGBT people are politically liberal, but as a very rough proxy], ACLU or other social justice kinds of groups, most environmental student groups, etc).

Also I think it's a really bad idea to join a political group representing a side you don't agree with just to try to get a job. Working for a judge who cares about federalist society membership when you don't agree with the FedSoc is just not going to go well. (I think there are plenty of judges who aren't going to care about that.) That's not to say that people should stay cabined in their own political silos, participate in FedSoc stuff if you want to, but I feel like presenting yourself as an active member in an application is going to be misleading unless you actually agree with them (unless you also included ACS and other stuff and it was clear you're just involved in a lot of different kinds of stuff, I suppose).

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby Barrred » Mon Jun 12, 2017 5:29 pm

I believe that the reason Federalist Society members are so much more engaged than ACS, and actually go to bat for one another is because Federalist Society members are embattled on nearly every law school campus these days. Even relatively benign Federalist Society events and speakers are getting protested by ENEMIES OF THE GATE types, and thus the fed soc people have a sense of shared persecution that instills loyalty.

My impression, however, is that the reason conservative judges prefer to hire Federalist Society members is not because of their loyalty to the Federalist Society as an organization, but rather because the judges are interested in having clerks who share their judicial philosophies. To me, Federalist Society membership seems to be more of a signaling device relating to judicial philosophy rather than a golden networking ticket.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Mon Jun 12, 2017 5:55 pm

Barrred wrote:I believe that the reason Federalist Society members are so much more engaged than ACS, and actually go to bat for one another is because Federalist Society members are embattled on nearly every law school campus these days. Even relatively benign Federalist Society events and speakers are getting protested by ENEMIES OF THE GATE types, and thus the fed soc people have a sense of shared persecution that instills loyalty.

Eh, I think that's partly true, but I think most protests are around undergrad speakers, not speakers brought by FedSoc specifically, and there was this same sense of FedSoc solidarity/engagement/identity when I was in law school (2008-11, before the campus protest thing became so widespread). I get if the general atmosphere makes them feel embattled, but I don't think FedSoc specifically has been especially attacked (that is, I don't think the solidarity is created by actual attacks so much as feeling like they represent a minority view in law schools).

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby wwwcol » Mon Jun 12, 2017 7:44 pm

Barrred wrote:I believe that the reason Federalist Society members are so much more engaged than ACS, and actually go to bat for one another is because Federalist Society members are embattled on nearly every law school campus these days. Even relatively benign Federalist Society events and speakers are getting protested by ENEMIES OF THE GATE types, and thus the fed soc people have a sense of shared persecution that instills loyalty.

My impression, however, is that the reason conservative judges prefer to hire Federalist Society members is not because of their loyalty to the Federalist Society as an organization, but rather because the judges are interested in having clerks who share their judicial philosophies. To me, Federalist Society membership seems to be more of a signaling device relating to judicial philosophy rather than a golden networking ticket.


agree with the second part. Federalist Society on a resume often signals a textualist with a particular view of separation of powers and the role of the judiciary. ACS on resume sends some signals (especially on constituonal rights) but doesn't convey as much about judicial philosophy.

Also, OP, as a practical matter, would you wipe your resume of liberal-leaning activities (e.g, that college internship for a Democratic senator, that 1L summer with the CFPB or a liberal judge, or that membership in (insert liberal org)? Just curious about the logistics of your scheme.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jun 12, 2017 8:40 pm

Here's one anonymous anecdotal data point: I actually tried to do the opposite of what OP is suggesting, but I failed in a good way.

I was a Federalist Society member in law school, but when it came time to apply to clerkships, I removed it from my resume entirely for fear liberal judges would throw out my application. I didnt even include it on my apps to conservative judges, because I was told that my resume should be consistent across judges in the same circuit, in case it was forwarded around/discussed between different chambers (looking back, not sure if that was a valid concern).

I ended up getting an interview with a conservative judge, and during the interview he asked approvingly "so, you are a member of the Federalist Society?" As best I can surmise, one of my recommenders must have included that I was a member in their letter. I ended up getting the clerkship, so maybe my FedSoc affiliation was a factor, who knows!

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby GoneSouth » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:20 am

Anonymous User wrote:Here's one anonymous anecdotal data point: I actually tried to do the opposite of what OP is suggesting, but I failed in a good way.

I was a Federalist Society member in law school, but when it came time to apply to clerkships, I removed it from my resume entirely for fear liberal judges would throw out my application. I didnt even include it on my apps to conservative judges, because I was told that my resume should be consistent across judges in the same circuit, in case it was forwarded around/discussed between different chambers (looking back, not sure if that was a valid concern).

I ended up getting an interview with a conservative judge, and during the interview he asked approvingly "so, you are a member of the Federalist Society?" As best I can surmise, one of my recommenders must have included that I was a member in their letter. I ended up getting the clerkship, so maybe my FedSoc affiliation was a factor, who knows!


This seems like a really bad idea, but glad it ended up working out for you.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby rpupkin » Tue Jun 13, 2017 1:57 am

GoneSouth wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Here's one anonymous anecdotal data point: I actually tried to do the opposite of what OP is suggesting, but I failed in a good way.

I was a Federalist Society member in law school, but when it came time to apply to clerkships, I removed it from my resume entirely for fear liberal judges would throw out my application. I didnt even include it on my apps to conservative judges, because I was told that my resume should be consistent across judges in the same circuit, in case it was forwarded around/discussed between different chambers (looking back, not sure if that was a valid concern).

I ended up getting an interview with a conservative judge, and during the interview he asked approvingly "so, you are a member of the Federalist Society?" As best I can surmise, one of my recommenders must have included that I was a member in their letter. I ended up getting the clerkship, so maybe my FedSoc affiliation was a factor, who knows!


This seems like a really bad idea, but glad it ended up working out for you.

Why does it seem like a bad idea? It sounds like the anon above took the concept too far—you of course want to include FedSoc affiliation on your resume if you have reason to believe that a judge will give you a boost for it—but I think it's generally a good idea to leave Fed Soc or ACS off of your resume when applying for clerkships.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby BlendedUnicorn » Tue Jun 13, 2017 2:02 am

FedSoc is like 93% people who came into law school without strong political beliefs and wanted the career/networking benefits.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby rpupkin » Tue Jun 13, 2017 2:07 am

BlendedUnicorn wrote:FedSoc is like 93% people who came into law school without strong political beliefs and wanted the career/networking benefits.

That was not my experience.

ETA: I was not (and am not) a member of the Federalist Society, but I noticed that people who joined FedSoc in law school were generally quite conservative.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby BlendedUnicorn » Tue Jun 13, 2017 2:10 am

rpupkin wrote:
BlendedUnicorn wrote:FedSoc is like 93% people who came into law school without strong political beliefs and wanted the career/networking benefits.

That was not my experience.


Maybe overstating it a little but that was my general impression. TBF, my school's FedSoc is insanely effective at placing its people and routinely produces SCOTUS clerks.

I also think that the indoctrination is real so that by the end of school they're mostly true believers.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby GoneSouth » Tue Jun 13, 2017 2:32 am

BlendedUnicorn wrote:
rpupkin wrote:
BlendedUnicorn wrote:FedSoc is like 93% people who came into law school without strong political beliefs and wanted the career/networking benefits.

That was not my experience.


Maybe overstating it a little but that was my general impression. TBF, my school's FedSoc is insanely effective at placing its people and routinely produces SCOTUS clerks.

I also think that the indoctrination is real so that by the end of school they're mostly true believers.


This. Also I think Fed Soc is going to help you with many more judges than it will hurt you with. It's almost always going to be a plus with conservative judges but often won't be a minus with liberal judges.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby rpupkin » Tue Jun 13, 2017 2:40 am

GoneSouth wrote:Also I think Fed Soc is going to help you with many more judges than it will hurt you with. It's almost always going to be a plus with conservative judges but often won't be a minus with liberal judges.

Strongly disagree.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby GoneSouth » Tue Jun 13, 2017 3:20 am

rpupkin wrote:
GoneSouth wrote:Also I think Fed Soc is going to help you with many more judges than it will hurt you with. It's almost always going to be a plus with conservative judges but often won't be a minus with liberal judges.

Strongly disagree.


Obviously depends on the judge, but in general judges on the right seem to care a lot more about Fed Soc membership (as a positive) than judges on the left care about it as a negative. That's not to say that there aren't judges who won't hire Fed Soc members, but if the goal is to get a clerkship, Fed Soc seems to help a lot more than it hurts.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby ndirish2010 » Tue Jun 13, 2017 9:56 am

I also must strongly disagree with the person who said that people join FedSoc only for the networking. Of course, networking is a huge benefit. I suspect I wouldn't have gotten my prior job or my current COA clerkship without FedSoc. But most people do not join a cause organization with which they have no affinity. Every person I knew in our chapter in law school was a genuine conservative or libertarian.

The reason FedSoc is so powerful is that it is THE group for law students and lawyers on the right, which is a much smaller group than those on the left. Therefore, it tends to be that everyone knows everyone, and so there's always someone to put in a word for you in the network. Also, conservative judges screen for FedSoc now because they know members are likely to share their judicial philosophy and actually care about it, or they wouldn't be active FedSoc members.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby LurkerTurnedMember » Tue Jun 13, 2017 10:10 am

OP here. There's some great comments here. To the poster above who got a clerkship and the judge asked for FedSoc membership, that's what prompted this thread the most. I also know of someone who got a clerkship and the judge specifically pointed out their FedSoc membership. They didn't have someone who knew the judge through FedSoc recommend them or anything. It was just, "I had FedSoc in my app. That was central in my interview. I got the job."

And that's just one example. So over time I started to get the sense as if you joined FedSoc, it's basically a door opener without really having to do much, like you're part of the family, even for the mlst prestigious jobs. Whereas on the liberal side, it's basically "do you know a family member of mine or a friend cause you won't get the job unless you do, I don't care if you're qualified." It makes it tougher to land certain jobs. And it hurts people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is why joining FedSoc even if you don't share their views seems enticing.

Also to the poster who asked if I wipe off liberal stuff from my resume, I do when it's not necessary to put down. I try to take out anything that might show my political leaning.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby jbagelboy » Tue Jun 13, 2017 10:17 am

Fed Soc was one of the few student orgs at my LS that had genuinely competitive applications for leadership positions on its board (not counting LR/journals).

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Tue Jun 13, 2017 10:21 am

I think the thing is that if you join but you don't actually share their political viewpoint, you're not going to get the advantages of joining, because it's a way for those who care to find people who do share their viewpoint. And pretending to share a political viewpoint for a job is just a bad road to walk.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:13 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:I think the thing is that if you join but you don't actually share their political viewpoint, you're not going to get the advantages of joining, because it's a way for those who care to find people who do share their viewpoint. And pretending to share a political viewpoint for a job is just a bad road to walk.


I'll pop in another anonymous datapoint. This was me. I was top 5% at CCN after 1L and am not clerking (currently a junior associate) in part because of this.

I'm mostly libertarian but fairly judicially/constitutionally conservative. My school's clerkship advisor strongly advised me that, if I could join Federalist Society without vomiting, I should do it and put it on my clerkship resume as his opinion and that of other professors was that fedsoc gives a huge edge in getting strong/feeder clerkships. I did that. Clerkship advisor coordinated with two of the professors who'd given me high grades and lined up a handful of interviews with top-tier conservative CoA judges.

The interviews went extremely poorly. I was basically grilled on whether or not I was a "true" conservative--not just stuff like my feelings about the Commerce Clause and whatnot, where I mostly agreed with the judicial conservative position, but more political topics like abortion, religious liberty, etc. The fact that I was not a died-in-the-wool conservative came out very quickly, and the tone immediately soured. I was basically being presented as "your best/one of your few best conservative candidate(s)," but was not that.

It exposed something to me that led me to stop applying to clerkships: doing something like listing Federalist Society for the purposes of getting a feeder clerkship meant that I had not really thought about why I wanted to clerk or what I wanted out of a clerkship nearly sufficiently before initiating the process. This is maybe a byproduct of being on the first year after the demise of the plan, where everyone was applying the summer after 1L (which I understand is still the case). But, like, I would've had to actually work with these judges for a year. Would I have been happy with that given the difference in ideologies? Maybe with the right judge who likes to see some variety in viewpoints within chambers, but that's not why these judges were interviewing me. They were interviewing me because top grades + fedsoc.

That said, I do think the boost is substantial if you're truly the fedsoc type. I was barely top 5% and these were among the very top conservative feeders. I don't know that I would've gotten the same quality of interviews on the liberal side. Maybe, but there would've been a lot more competition with the rest of the top of the class.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby ndirish2010 » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:24 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
A. Nony Mouse wrote:I think the thing is that if you join but you don't actually share their political viewpoint, you're not going to get the advantages of joining, because it's a way for those who care to find people who do share their viewpoint. And pretending to share a political viewpoint for a job is just a bad road to walk.


I'll pop in another anonymous datapoint. This was me. I was top 5% at CCN after 1L and am not clerking (currently a junior associate) in part because of this.

I'm mostly libertarian but fairly judicially/constitutionally conservative. My school's clerkship advisor strongly advised me that, if I could join Federalist Society without vomiting, I should do it and put it on my clerkship resume as his opinion and that of other professors was that fedsoc gives a huge edge in getting strong/feeder clerkships. I did that. Clerkship advisor coordinated with two of the professors who'd given me high grades and lined up a handful of interviews with top-tier conservative CoA judges.

The interviews went extremely poorly. I was basically grilled on whether or not I was a "true" conservative--not just stuff like my feelings about the Commerce Clause and whatnot, where I mostly agreed with the judicial conservative position, but more political topics like abortion, religious liberty, etc. The fact that I was not a died-in-the-wool conservative came out very quickly, and the tone immediately soured. I was basically being presented as "your best/one of your few best conservative candidate(s)," but was not that.

It exposed something to me that led me to stop applying to clerkships: doing something like listing Federalist Society for the purposes of getting a feeder clerkship meant that I had not really thought about why I wanted to clerk or what I wanted out of a clerkship nearly sufficiently before initiating the process. This is maybe a byproduct of being on the first year after the demise of the plan, where everyone was applying the summer after 1L (which I understand is still the case). But, like, I would've had to actually work with these judges for a year. Would I have been happy with that given the difference in ideologies? Maybe with the right judge who likes to see some variety in viewpoints within chambers, but that's not why these judges were interviewing me. They were interviewing me because top grades + fedsoc.

That said, I do think the boost is substantial if you're truly the fedsoc type. I was barely top 5% and these were among the very top conservative feeders. I don't know that I would've gotten the same quality of interviews on the liberal side. Maybe, but there would've been a lot more competition with the rest of the top of the class.


So this is really strange to me. There are plenty of straight libertarians in FedSoc (even those who aren't committed to judicial conservatism, and who many conservatives would derisively call "activists"). It seems like more of a problem of how you were talked up to the judges, because your profile is not out of place in FedSoc.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:53 pm

But does that match up with the profile of judges who use FedSoc as a proxy for what they're looking for? I think there could both be a lot of libertarians in FedSoc at the same time that the judges who select for FedSoc are really selecting for conservative political views. (To be clear, I don't know this for certain, I'm just wondering.)

On another note: I think most of the political litmus test stuff comes into play with COA and/or the highly elite feeders. I realize that's where this discussion has mostly focused, but just for people who are reading thinking about other kind of clerkships - I clerked for a DCt judge who I'm pretty sure has different political views from mine. But at the DCt level it just doesn't play a big role day to day, because so much of the work you do is going to be applying clearly established law. Whatever you/your judge think about (say) environmental regulations isn't going to matter, it's whether the parties in the case before you complied with the current case law about those regulations. There are only occasionally cases where there really isn't settled law, and even then I think most judges have a lot of practical considerations that aren't really about politics.

So frankly if this political discussion is depressing you about the experience of clerking, get down in the trenches of trial court and just learn how litigation works! Okay, yeah, fewer career benefits that clerking for a feeder. But still valuable!

(The judge's chambers was definitely more on his side of the spectrum - not shockingly - and sometimes I had to bite my tongue and other times I didn't when I probably should have, but it wasn't like being in some reeducation camp or anything - they were very nice people.)

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 13, 2017 1:11 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:But does that match up with the profile of judges who use FedSoc as a proxy for what they're looking for? I think there could both be a lot of libertarians in FedSoc at the same time that the judges who select for FedSoc are really selecting for conservative political views. (To be clear, I don't know this for certain, I'm just wondering.)

On another note: I think most of the political litmus test stuff comes into play with COA and/or the highly elite feeders. I realize that's where this discussion has mostly focused, but just for people who are reading thinking about other kind of clerkships - I clerked for a DCt judge who I'm pretty sure has different political views from mine. But at the DCt level it just doesn't play a big role day to day, because so much of the work you do is going to be applying clearly established law. Whatever you/your judge think about (say) environmental regulations isn't going to matter, it's whether the parties in the case before you complied with the current case law about those regulations. There are only occasionally cases where there really isn't settled law, and even then I think most judges have a lot of practical considerations that aren't really about politics.

So frankly if this political discussion is depressing you about the experience of clerking, get down in the trenches of trial court and just learn how litigation works! Okay, yeah, fewer career benefits that clerking for a feeder. But still valuable!

(The judge's chambers was definitely more on his side of the spectrum - not shockingly - and sometimes I had to bite my tongue and other times I didn't when I probably should have, but it wasn't like being in some reeducation camp or anything - they were very nice people.)


What I'm trying to infer from this thread is: Would putting FedSoc on your app put you at a disadvantage when applying for 2nd Circuit federal district court clerkships?

I assume that in the circuits/districts that encompass more conservative areas, it would definitely be a boon.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Tue Jun 13, 2017 1:16 pm

There are conservative and liberal judges everywhere. If you want to parse things in that fashion, you need to either know the political persuasion of the judge you're applying so you can match it, or be willing to put your true self on your application so that you can get hired for your authentic self. Lots of people do find it wiser to remove political markers in either direction from their resume. Sometimes that's not so easy (a friend of mine once referred to her "gay gay resume" because all her experience was with LGBT causes. Putting FedSoc on there wouldn't have made a tiny bit of difference. Taking it off wouldn't make a difference for someone who's spent their law school career working for conservative causes).

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 13, 2017 1:27 pm

ndirish2010 wrote:
So this is really strange to me. There are plenty of straight libertarians in FedSoc (even those who aren't committed to judicial conservatism, and who many conservatives would derisively call "activists"). It seems like more of a problem of how you were talked up to the judges, because your profile is not out of place in FedSoc.


Anon above. I agree. I also now know of other libertarian fedsoc members who did fairly well, but they were not applying to the same judges. I think part of this ties into the thing about not knowing what I wanted out of a clerkship -- at that point I was just going for the biggest, shiniest gold star possible, which I think a lot of people do (but maybe isn't the best way to approach clerking). The other libertarians were much further along in their visions of their own careers and sought out judges who were good personal fits.

That's good to hear, nony. Part of why I stopped applying after those bad experiences was along the lines of a) having a really sour taste about the political litmus test thing, and b) feeling like it might be better to leave clerking on the table if I want to transition out of biglaw. Almost assuredly that would be at the D.Ct level now.

Anonymous User wrote:What I'm trying to infer from this thread is: Would putting FedSoc on your app put you at a disadvantage when applying for 2nd Circuit federal district court clerkships?

I assume that in the circuits/districts that encompass more conservative areas, it would definitely be a boon.


I don't think it's that clear cut. Listing fedsoc or ACS will just take you out of the running for some judges everywhere. Similarly, the same things are prerequisites for the same and other judges, also everywhere. And then some other group of judges doesn't care, so it doesn't move the needle either way. (edit:scooped)

If you want a takeaway from the thread, I think nony's point about "don't present yourself as aligning a certain way if you don't" is as good as any.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Tue Jun 13, 2017 1:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Federalist Society and Clerkships

Postby ndirish2010 » Tue Jun 13, 2017 1:28 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:But does that match up with the profile of judges who use FedSoc as a proxy for what they're looking for? I think there could both be a lot of libertarians in FedSoc at the same time that the judges who select for FedSoc are really selecting for conservative political views. (To be clear, I don't know this for certain, I'm just wondering.)

On another note: I think most of the political litmus test stuff comes into play with COA and/or the highly elite feeders. I realize that's where this discussion has mostly focused, but just for people who are reading thinking about other kind of clerkships - I clerked for a DCt judge who I'm pretty sure has different political views from mine. But at the DCt level it just doesn't play a big role day to day, because so much of the work you do is going to be applying clearly established law. Whatever you/your judge think about (say) environmental regulations isn't going to matter, it's whether the parties in the case before you complied with the current case law about those regulations. There are only occasionally cases where there really isn't settled law, and even then I think most judges have a lot of practical considerations that aren't really about politics.

So frankly if this political discussion is depressing you about the experience of clerking, get down in the trenches of trial court and just learn how litigation works! Okay, yeah, fewer career benefits that clerking for a feeder. But still valuable!

(The judge's chambers was definitely more on his side of the spectrum - not shockingly - and sometimes I had to bite my tongue and other times I didn't when I probably should have, but it wasn't like being in some reeducation camp or anything - they were very nice people.)


I think my point was more that if you present yourself as a libertarian with a conservative judicial philosophy (and then you're presented that way to the judges), most conservative judges would gladly hire you. So he/she must have been presented as a staunch conservative on policy, and then the judges were disappointed to learn that he/she was actually a libertarian. But that seems to be a confusion that could have been avoided (and really wasn't caused by the FedSoc identification).



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