An Inside Look at the Supreme Court's Gatekeepers

UT alumnus David Weiden (Ph.D., Government, ‘07) and co-author Artemus Ward, assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, offer a peek inside the Supreme Court’s closed chambers in “Sorcerers’ Apprentices: 100 Years of Law Clerks at the United States Supreme Court” (New York University Press, 2006).

Filled with charts, graphs and quotes from law clerks and justices, the book provides a nuanced overview of the inner workings of our nation’s highest court, focusing on how law clerks significantly influence justices’ decision-making.

Tracing the history of the Supreme Court from the 19th century to the present, the authors compile an overview of the changing world of law clerks, revealing their transcendence from mere clerical assistants in the 1930s to the powerful gatekeepers they are today.

Based on Supreme Court archives, extensive interviews and surveys with 150 former law clerks, the authors track the clerks’ escalating rise in power and define the little-known role of the law clerk, a profession many consider the pinnacle of a young lawyer’s career.

The book’s namesake alludes to the title of the 1797 poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which tells the story of a sorcerer’s apprentice who oversteps his bounds by trying on the master’s robe and experimenting with sorcery. Using this metaphor, the authors pose the question: Are the lines between the “masters” and “apprentices” becoming blurred?

Do Supreme Court law clerks pose a threat to the court’s authority?