Monday, September 24, 2012

Rehnquist on Clerking at SCOTUS

The Long Conference today, with important issues like Prop. 8 and DOMA on the table, got me thinking about the late Chief Justice Rehnquist's book, The Supreme Court, which I recently read.

The late chief clerked for Justice Robert Jackson during the Steel Seizure Case (1952; 60 years ago)a highly watched matter about whether President Truman could, in the interest of national defense, seize steel mills to prevent a nationwide strike. The United States was then fighting in Korea.

Rehnquist talks about anxiously working at his desk, with "one ear cocked for the buzzer" announcing that the conference was over. (In that conference, the justices voted on the case itself, unlike today when they are deciding whether to hear cases.)

He and his co-clerk stood by the door to chambers, hoping Justice Jackson would come back soon.

Jackson did, ushering them in. "Well, boys, the President got licked," he said.

Along with the buzzer nerves mentioned, the book contains many other interesting insights into a Supreme Court clerkship, both from Rehnquist's perspective then and later, as a justice.

I am guessing that the hot debates among clerks at lunch (noted by Rehnquist) still happen. And I am also guessing that they were listening closely for the buzzer today.