Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

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Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Apr 20, 2020 4:02 pm

I'm about to start applying for clerkships and am wondering how I should be viewing the ideologies of judges. I am a bit worried about clerking for the more stringent originalist/texualist judges and would rather not apply to those with outspoken conservative social/political views as I am liberal. Is this the wrong way of thinking about this? My main concerns are (1) having a more "conservative" judge on my resume will serve as a signal that I myself am conservative (I am not, and would not want to prevent myself from working for democratic administrations), and (2) I would not enjoy working for a judge whose views I deeply disagree with (particularly on the COA level). Any thoughts? My medium-term goals are not super liberal or anything (biglaw -> AUSA or SEC), and I'm top 10% at S/H (no LR) so I imagine I can at least be somewhat selective my first time applying for clerkships.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by nixy » Mon Apr 20, 2020 4:48 pm

So, I don’t think having a “conservative” judge on your resume will signal that you’re conservative, unless the judge is known for hiring specifically for conservative views (and it doesn’t sound like you’d get very far with such a judge). There are lots of reasons people clerk for the judges they clerk for, often simply that that’s the judge who hired them (probably less of a factor for you than for many though). If you’re actually looking at SCOTUS, sure, if you clerked for Thomas people will presume you’re conservative (and at least willing to be an originalist for a year for the experience - I don’t know that you’d be presumed to have taken on his entire jurisprudence, but at least that you don’t object to it). But I don’t think that’s really the case outside SCOTUS and a few very visible COA judges.

I also think that about 97% of the time, political leanings don’t come into play during a clerkship because the law at issue is pretty established and obvious. The majority of clerking is handling pretty routine cases that don’t require a political response (you may not agree with, say, the policy behind some element of tort law, but that doesn’t have anything to do with how you apply that law if that element is well-established). Such cases often don’t even require a specific school of thought like originalist/textualist. Most of the time, agreeing with your judge’s politics just doesn’t matter (beyond the extreme case of thinking a particular judge’s politics are just so vile that you couldn’t stomach it, but I think that’s more extreme than most liberal/conservative differences).

I clerked for two judges, the first I’m honestly still not sure what their political leanings were, and the second had very different political leanings from mine but it was never an issue at all when dealing with cases. (Admittedly neither were famous/prestigious, and maybe it’s different with some of the judicial “stars” out there.)

It certainly makes sense for you to at least start by limiting your applications to liberal judges. To the extent connections fall along political lines, a liberal judge may be able to more
actively help you politically down the line. But it’s not always super clear what a judge’s politics are (president who appointed them isn’t foolproof, especially the further back you go - I’ll admit all the DJT appointees are probably pretty reliably conservative). And I don’t think who you clerk for, in the vast majority of cases, will prevent you from, say, working for a Democratic admin, at all.

(But I’ll readily admit that my biggest concern for clerking was finding a judge who would hire me, so I may be invested in all the above ideas.)

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by dvlthndr » Mon Apr 20, 2020 4:51 pm

Clerks can have different ideologies than their judges. Certain feeders have ideological preferences (i.e., conservative feeders with a preference for active Fed-Soc members), but these are the minority. Even then, they don't demand 100% ideological purity. With rare exception, it would be a mistake to assume too much about somebody's politics because of who they clerked for.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Apr 20, 2020 5:34 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I'm about to start applying for clerkships and am wondering how I should be viewing the ideologies of judges. I am a bit worried about clerking for the more stringent originalist/texualist judges and would rather not apply to those with outspoken conservative social/political views as I am liberal. Is this the wrong way of thinking about this? My main concerns are (1) having a more "conservative" judge on my resume will serve as a signal that I myself am conservative (I am not, and would not want to prevent myself from working for democratic administrations), and (2) I would not enjoy working for a judge whose views I deeply disagree with (particularly on the COA level). Any thoughts? My medium-term goals are not super liberal or anything (biglaw -> AUSA or SEC), and I'm top 10% at S/H (no LR) so I imagine I can at least be somewhat selective my first time applying for clerkships.
I clerked for Republican-appointed district and circuit judges and my more liberal political views were never a problem. However, I think it would be a little different if I had clerked for some of the overtly partisan Trump appointees (to be clear, there are many Trump nominees that are well qualified and respected; it is only a select few that I think cross the line into crass partisanship).

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by lavarman84 » Mon Apr 20, 2020 6:03 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I'm about to start applying for clerkships and am wondering how I should be viewing the ideologies of judges. I am a bit worried about clerking for the more stringent originalist/texualist judges and would rather not apply to those with outspoken conservative social/political views as I am liberal. Is this the wrong way of thinking about this? My main concerns are (1) having a more "conservative" judge on my resume will serve as a signal that I myself am conservative (I am not, and would not want to prevent myself from working for democratic administrations), and (2) I would not enjoy working for a judge whose views I deeply disagree with (particularly on the COA level). Any thoughts? My medium-term goals are not super liberal or anything (biglaw -> AUSA or SEC), and I'm top 10% at S/H (no LR) so I imagine I can at least be somewhat selective my first time applying for clerkships.
In my opinion, it's no big deal. The outspoken/hardcore conservatives generally screen for ideology if it matters to them. For the ones who don't, you shouldn't have an issue fitting in chambers, as long as you're not one of those people who is so partisan that you can't deal with people who are on the other side. I am a liberal. I clerked for a conservative. I know one of my co-clerks was also liberal. The other two were conservative. We didn't have any issues getting along, and I got along well with the Judge.

There was only maybe one case I handled where political ideology really could matter, and the Judge and I were in agreement on the case. I might just have a legal ideology that trends somewhat conservative (in opposition to how I vote), but it wasn't an issue for me.

As I said in a separate thread, the only issues that would have been potentially difficult for me would have been something like abortion or the ACA. Those issues might have been difficult because some conservative judges are essentially choosing to disregard precedent to come to the conclusion they want, and that would not have sat well with me. But I don't think my judge would have done that. Of course, I can't say for sure.

That all said, if you're not comfortable with the idea, just go after liberal and moderate judges. And to answer your final question, I don't think it signals that you're conservative. Plenty of liberals have clerked for well-known conservatives and vice versa.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Apr 20, 2020 7:05 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I'm about to start applying for clerkships and am wondering how I should be viewing the ideologies of judges. I am a bit worried about clerking for the more stringent originalist/texualist judges and would rather not apply to those with outspoken conservative social/political views as I am liberal. Is this the wrong way of thinking about this? My main concerns are (1) having a more "conservative" judge on my resume will serve as a signal that I myself am conservative (I am not, and would not want to prevent myself from working for democratic administrations), and (2) I would not enjoy working for a judge whose views I deeply disagree with (particularly on the COA level). Any thoughts? My medium-term goals are not super liberal or anything (biglaw -> AUSA or SEC), and I'm top 10% at S/H (no LR) so I imagine I can at least be somewhat selective my first time applying for clerkships.
I had similar credentials and am conservative. I applied almost exclusively to judges who broadly share my approach to the law, and am now clerking for my second of those judges. My reasons were similar. My sense is that you're probably competitive enough to apply only to judges who are left-of-center, and there's no harm in starting there and seeing if you can get a clerkship with someone who generally shares your views and would have more contacts on the side of the aisle you later want to work on.

I will say, though, that one of my quite liberal professors clerked for one of my judges, and told me that clerking for someone with whom he disagreed was a uniquely good learning experience. That clerkship didn't stop him from having a great career, and nobody would think that he was a conservative because of that one clerkship (based on his scholarship, etc.).

Clerkships probably serve as proxies for ideology more (1) early in one's career and/or (2) when the rest of your resume doesn't indicate your actual ideology. If you intern at the ACLU or list one of any number of liberal student groups on your resume alongside your clerkship with a Republican-appointed judge, that can signal to people that your ideology doesn't align with your judge's.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by lavarman84 » Mon Apr 20, 2020 7:40 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I will say, though, that one of my quite liberal professors clerked for one of my judges, and told me that clerking for someone with whom he disagreed was a uniquely good learning experience. That clerkship didn't stop him from having a great career, and nobody would think that he was a conservative because of that one clerkship (based on his scholarship, etc.).
I agree with this. I think it helps to understand how a judge who doesn't share your ideology thinks and evaluates cases.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Apr 29, 2020 1:15 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I'm about to start applying for clerkships and am wondering how I should be viewing the ideologies of judges. I am a bit worried about clerking for the more stringent originalist/texualist judges and would rather not apply to those with outspoken conservative social/political views as I am liberal. Is this the wrong way of thinking about this? My main concerns are (1) having a more "conservative" judge on my resume will serve as a signal that I myself am conservative (I am not, and would not want to prevent myself from working for democratic administrations), and (2) I would not enjoy working for a judge whose views I deeply disagree with (particularly on the COA level). Any thoughts? My medium-term goals are not super liberal or anything (biglaw -> AUSA or SEC), and I'm top 10% at S/H (no LR) so I imagine I can at least be somewhat selective my first time applying for clerkships.
I had similar credentials and am conservative. I applied almost exclusively to judges who broadly share my approach to the law, and am now clerking for my second of those judges. My reasons were similar. My sense is that you're probably competitive enough to apply only to judges who are left-of-center, and there's no harm in starting there and seeing if you can get a clerkship with someone who generally shares your views and would have more contacts on the side of the aisle you later want to work on.

I will say, though, that one of my quite liberal professors clerked for one of my judges, and told me that clerking for someone with whom he disagreed was a uniquely good learning experience. That clerkship didn't stop him from having a great career, and nobody would think that he was a conservative because of that one clerkship (based on his scholarship, etc.).

Clerkships probably serve as proxies for ideology more (1) early in one's career and/or (2) when the rest of your resume doesn't indicate your actual ideology. If you intern at the ACLU or list one of any number of liberal student groups on your resume alongside your clerkship with a Republican-appointed judge, that can signal to people that your ideology doesn't align with your judge's.
It's worth noting that there is a relevant difference in that conservative students can get clerkships much more easily than liberal students. A conservative who's top 10% at HYSC is pretty likely to clerk on the Supreme Court, a liberal in the same position is far less likely (and probably barred entirely at C given how HY-centric the liberals are). There's a decent argument that liberals should apply more broadly than you did because of that, especially if they're putting their eggs in a 2/9/DC basket.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Apr 29, 2020 2:40 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I'm about to start applying for clerkships and am wondering how I should be viewing the ideologies of judges. I am a bit worried about clerking for the more stringent originalist/texualist judges and would rather not apply to those with outspoken conservative social/political views as I am liberal. Is this the wrong way of thinking about this? My main concerns are (1) having a more "conservative" judge on my resume will serve as a signal that I myself am conservative (I am not, and would not want to prevent myself from working for democratic administrations), and (2) I would not enjoy working for a judge whose views I deeply disagree with (particularly on the COA level). Any thoughts? My medium-term goals are not super liberal or anything (biglaw -> AUSA or SEC), and I'm top 10% at S/H (no LR) so I imagine I can at least be somewhat selective my first time applying for clerkships.
I had similar credentials and am conservative. I applied almost exclusively to judges who broadly share my approach to the law, and am now clerking for my second of those judges. My reasons were similar. My sense is that you're probably competitive enough to apply only to judges who are left-of-center, and there's no harm in starting there and seeing if you can get a clerkship with someone who generally shares your views and would have more contacts on the side of the aisle you later want to work on.

I will say, though, that one of my quite liberal professors clerked for one of my judges, and told me that clerking for someone with whom he disagreed was a uniquely good learning experience. That clerkship didn't stop him from having a great career, and nobody would think that he was a conservative because of that one clerkship (based on his scholarship, etc.).

Clerkships probably serve as proxies for ideology more (1) early in one's career and/or (2) when the rest of your resume doesn't indicate your actual ideology. If you intern at the ACLU or list one of any number of liberal student groups on your resume alongside your clerkship with a Republican-appointed judge, that can signal to people that your ideology doesn't align with your judge's.
It's worth noting that there is a relevant difference in that conservative students can get clerkships much more easily than liberal students. A conservative who's top 10% at HYSC is pretty likely to clerk on the Supreme Court, a liberal in the same position is far less likely (and probably barred entirely at C given how HY-centric the liberals are). There's a decent argument that liberals should apply more broadly than you did because of that, especially if they're putting their eggs in a 2/9/DC basket.
I hope you're right, re SCOTUS. And I certainly agree that's a relevant difference. I just figure that someone who's around top 10% at a top-three school is competitive enough to apply only to their side of the aisle, at least for a first round of applications. Perhaps I'm wrong about that and it really is that much more competitive for liberal students. But there are so many liberal clerks on my non-2/9/DC circuit without those credentials that I think someone in that position wouldn't have much difficulty finding a judge whose ideology they share to clerk for.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by LBJ's Hair » Wed Apr 29, 2020 2:57 pm

Anonymous User wrote:A conservative who's top 10% at HYSC is pretty likely to clerk on the Supreme Court, a liberal in the same position is far less likely (and probably barred entirely at C given how HY-centric the liberals are). There's a decent argument that liberals should apply more broadly than you did because of that, especially if they're putting their eggs in a 2/9/DC basket.
FedSoc helps for sure for generic COA, but at SCOTUS only two of the conservative wing really care about clerk ideology, and I don't know if it would even be dispositive for them: Thomas and Alito. (Probably for Alito.) Roberts and Kavanaugh are just resume/transcript snobs, and Gorsuch is idiosyncratic.

Same is true of a lot of the conservative feeders--Wilkinson, Sutton, for example. You're not getting an interview by getting top 10% grades and listing FedSoc. You get it with top 10% grades and professors going to bat for you.

If people want to preclude themselves from applying to these judges out of ideological disagreement, that's perfectly respectable. But there are lots of liberal careerists who care more about clerking on SCOTUS than writing opinions they fully agree with.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by LBJ's Hair » Wed Apr 29, 2020 3:36 pm

LBJ's Hair wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:A conservative who's top 10% at HYSC is pretty likely to clerk on the Supreme Court, a liberal in the same position is far less likely (and probably barred entirely at C given how HY-centric the liberals are). There's a decent argument that liberals should apply more broadly than you did because of that, especially if they're putting their eggs in a 2/9/DC basket.
FedSoc helps for sure for generic COA, but at SCOTUS only two of the conservative wing really care about clerk ideology, and I don't know if it would even be dispositive for them: Thomas and Alito. (Probably for Alito.) Roberts and Kavanaugh are just resume/transcript snobs, and Gorsuch is idiosyncratic.

Same is true of a lot of the conservative feeders--Wilkinson, Sutton, for example. You're not getting an interview by getting top 10% grades and listing FedSoc. You get it with top 10% grades and professors going to bat for you.

If people want to preclude themselves from applying to these judges out of ideological disagreement, that's perfectly respectable. But there are lots of liberal careerists who care more about clerking on SCOTUS than writing opinions they fully agree with.
*I'll caveat that YLS FedSoc is sort of a different thing, given it's all connections, no grades. But like, if you're a Yalie whining about not getting SCOTUS, you already had a bigger leg up than 95% of law students. That's like a rich white guy who went to Dalton complaining about affirmative action.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Apr 29, 2020 4:31 pm

OP. I’m basically planning on applying to about 45 COA judges, all Dem appointees and generally left of center with an exception for Sutton, and all in cities (though some less “major” ones like Cleveland or Oklahoma City). Also planning on applying to around 50-75 district court Judges, all in major cities and most left of center save for some less ideological W appointees. Is this a big enough list to have a good chance at locking down a D.Ct. And COA the first time around?

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Apr 29, 2020 4:59 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP. I’m basically planning on applying to about 45 COA judges, all Dem appointees and generally left of center with an exception for Sutton, and all in cities (though some less “major” ones like Cleveland or Oklahoma City). Also planning on applying to around 50-75 district court Judges, all in major cities and most left of center save for some less ideological W appointees. Is this a big enough list to have a good chance at locking down a D.Ct. And COA the first time around?
Doesn't this entirely depend on your school, grades, and recs? How would OP know?

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Apr 29, 2020 5:07 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:OP. I’m basically planning on applying to about 45 COA judges, all Dem appointees and generally left of center with an exception for Sutton, and all in cities (though some less “major” ones like Cleveland or Oklahoma City). Also planning on applying to around 50-75 district court Judges, all in major cities and most left of center save for some less ideological W appointees. Is this a big enough list to have a good chance at locking down a D.Ct. And COA the first time around?
Doesn't this entirely depend on your school, grades, and recs? How would OP know?
I am OP. Recs are not famous and I haven't done anything earth-shattering for them, so they will probably be average enthusiasm.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Apr 29, 2020 7:46 pm

I imagine you'll probably be fine if you're applying broadly geographically. Note that you can't apply to more than 100 on OSCAR, so I would choose something like 50-50. I don't imagine you'll have an issue getting a good district clerkship as long as you're willing to work outside of highly competitive districts, which it seems like you are, so you might be able to get away with 60-40 appellate.

Appointing president isn't as strong of a proxy as you seem to think. Even for circuit courts you'll miss out on some non-ideological Trump appointees, e.g. the Seventh has a couple (Scudder and St. Eve, who are both supposed to be great) because Illinois has a longstanding screening committee that chooses the nominees for its federal courts. For circuit courts the Senate votes on nominees are good proxies. And I think it's much messier for district courts, both Obama and Trump have put both Republicans and Democrats on my home district court, as nominees for them are often actually chosen by the state's senators. The strong majority of district court judges could probably fairly be described as "non-ideological" in any case, unless you're in DDC or maybe EDVA there's not much they do that's politically valenced (with the possible exception of toughness in habeas, sentencing, immigration).

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by Quichelorraine » Fri May 01, 2020 2:49 pm

Honestly, I think the problem is less about "ideology" (although I have my own issues about how fringey people get whitewashed by the prestige/judge worship machine) than, to be blunt, whether the judge comes off as an asshole.

You could clerk for someone whose politics and jurisprudence are to the right of Atilla the Hun, and so long as there are a sufficient number of dry-as-dirt bankruptcy opinions of no ideological valence, a cutesy/folksy/clever writing style of the sort that lights the fire under the Lat/Garner types, and a brief glimpse of empathy or humanity amidst cruel and technical outcomes ("Obviously, crushing the testicles of a pretrial detainee is a lamentable practice, and through today's opinion, we do not suggest approval of the disciplinary approach chosen by the County in its administration of its jail. Nevertheless . . ."), you'll waltz right into a stellar position at the ACLU.

But if you work for someone who is known first and foremost as a culture warrior, then you'll have problems.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 02, 2020 3:26 pm

OP here. Thank you for these replies; great knowledge. Will definitely apply to Scudder and St. Eve among others. I think my list is doesn't have space for more than a few republican appointed COA judges anyways since I'm applying to both COA and trial judges. And I'll make sure to apply to plenty of good GOP appointed D. Ct. Judges.

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Re: Judge's ideology as a proxy for clerk's views

Post by beepboopbeep » Sat May 02, 2020 3:31 pm

You'll end up getting to apply for more than 100, in all likelihood, as positions get filled during plan week. In your shoes it's probably worth having an list of the next 30-50 judges you'd apply to so you can get things out once you notice things dropping off of OSCAR. But with your stats it's also possible you'll just get both a CoA and DCt lined up relatively quickly and not have to worry about this too much.

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