The Bureaucratic Court

In August 2006, the New York Times caused a stir by reporting that the number of female law clerks at the United States Supreme Court has fallen sharply in the first full Term in which Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is no longer on the bench. In an era in which nearly fifty percent of all law school graduates are women, the Times reported, less than twenty percent of the clerks in the Court’s 2006 Term – seven of thirty-seven – are women. In interviews, Justices Souter and Breyer viewed the sharp drop in the number of female clerks as an aberration from most years, when women typically comprise one-third of all clerks. What is perhaps most notable about the Times article is that it assumes the newsworthiness of the demographics of an anonymous group of temporary judicial aides. The article was not the first time the Court’s hiring practices have come under fire in recent years, nor is the fascination with Supreme Court clerks anything new. In the 1970s, Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong rattled the cloistered Court with their best-selling Brethren, and twenty years later former Blackmun clerk Edward Lazarus broke the clerks’ code of silence and published a tell-all insider’s account in Closed Chambers. Now those gossipy texts have been supplemented by two more dispassionate and scholarly works that tell a fuller tale of the history and role of Supreme Court clerks.