Justice Brennan and His Law Clerks

Stephen Wermiel


Symposium: Judicial Assistants or Junior Judges: The Hiring, Utilization, and Influence of Law Clerks: Journalists and BiographersDuring his thirty-four Terms on the U.S. Supreme Court,' Justice William J. Brennan Jr. employed more than one hundred law clerks. By most descriptions, Justice Brennan's relationship with his law clerks was a unique experience, even in the rarified atmosphere of one of the most prestigious apprenticeships in any professional field. Not only did Justice Brennan's law clerks get to draft many important opinions, but they also served as his emissaries to glean information from the clerks of other Justices.' The experience of his law clerks went well beyond a post-law-degree seminar in jurisprudence and functioned as a course in both negotiation and judicial politics. This Essay examines the relationship between Justice Brennan and his law clerks. There has been much debate about the proper role of Supreme Court law clerks. The goal of this analysis is to provide a brief glimpse of how one Justice chose and then worked with his clerks so that they contributed significantly to his very substantial body of work. The intent is to inform rather than fuel debate about the role and influence of law clerks.