But What About Justice Souter?

January 8th, 2015

Retired Supreme Court Justices are allowed to hire one law clerk. Usually, that clerk is assigned to work part-time for another Justice.

In the Atlantic, Ryan Park writes a fascinating article about his clerkship with Justice Ginsburg. The article begins:

This past summer, on the last day of my clerkship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she rose from her cavernous desk and, following a hearty goodbye hug, asked me what was next. I told her that the next morning marked the start of my new job as a stay-at-home dad. She smiled warmly and wished me luck.

Nowhere in the actual article is there ANY mention of the fact that Park was actually a Souter clerk, who was assigned to Ginsburg. Only in the footer of the article, do you see this credit, which lists RBG first:

Ryan Park is an associate at the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP and a former law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter.

Is this bad etiquette to slight the Justice you work for, and only mention him in passing in the author bio? I have no doubt Park did extensive work for RBG, and worked closely with her, but the standard practice is to focus on the judge who hired you. This is almost as bad as some people who say they clerked for Justices Breyer or Alito, when they actually clerked for Judges Breyer or Alito (you know who you are!).

Also, the timing of his gap between clerking and working seems within the realm of normalcy. He finished working at the Court in July of 2014.  He started working at Boies, Schiller & Flexner a “few weeks ago.” He took off roughly five months between the conclusion of his clerkship, and the start of his law firm gig. That doesn’t seem too unreasonable. Several clerks I know have taken off a few months to travel and do other fun stuff. Also, I am pretty sure he still collected the $250,000+ signing bonus.

Update: David Lat notes that Aaron Zelinsky, who clerked fro Justice Stevens, and was assigned to Justice Kennedy, writes this for his bio:

Aaron Zelinsky served as a law clerk for Justices John Paul Stevens (Ret.) and Anthony Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court, as well as Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch of the Israeli Supreme Court and Judge Thomas B. Griffith of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

I think this strikes the right balance. It is accurate, and respectful to both judges.

Update: The article is now updated, with Justice Souter’s name listed first.

Ryan Park is an associate at the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP and a former law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justices David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Update: Ryan provided an update to ATL:

I just wanted to write and address one thing that is mentioned in the post, which is my dual citizenship in both Justice Souter’s and Justice Ginsburg’s chambers. I completely agree that I owe the privilege of clerking at the Court to Justice Souter, who is the person who actually hired me. But I couldn’t really think of a good place to mention my relationship with him in the main body of the article in light of the article’s context. (I mean, much of it is a tribute to Justice Ginsburg’s life and career.) I’m grateful to Justice Ginsburg for taking me on as one of her own. I didn’t mean to slight (or think I was slighting) Justice Souter by writing an article highlighting my relationship with her. It also would have been nice to mention the other judges I clerked for, Chief Judge Robert Katzmann and Judge Jed Rakoff, but it wasn’t really relevant to the piece. I didn’t write the byline (or the headline) for the article, but I asked that the order of the Justices be flipped, just to put the issue to bed. The Atlantic agreed to do so.