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Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0804753821
ISBN-10: 0804753822
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Editorial Reviews


"[This book], which [is] carefully researched and use multiple sources to confirm [its] findings, take us a long way toward a better understanding of the role of law clerks at the Supreme Court. . . [It] is an important addition to the scholarly literature on the Supreme Court."—Mark C. Miller, Law & Social Inquiry

"Law clerks have come to play an integral part in the work of the Supreme Court, and their role attracts considerable attention. Todd Peppers uses a rich body of information to illuminate who the clerks are and what they do in their work for the justices. Courtiers of the Marble Palace shows how and why the role of the clerks has evolved over the past century. In doing so it greatly enhances our understanding of Supreme Court clerkships and tells us much about the Court itself."—Lawrence Baum, Ohio State University

"This long-awaited book fills a huge gap in Supreme Court scholarship; information about Supreme Court clerks has heretofore been only patchy and anecdotal. Peppers's systematic efforts to gather information about this subject while remaining sensitive to the confidential relationship between Justices and their clerks pays off handsomely. The data he has gleaned through careful research are analyzed in a skillful and useful manner. Peppers's chapters on the stenographers and early clerks of the late nineteenth century are a particularly valuable contribution to Supreme Court history."—Clare Cushman, Supreme Court Historical Society

"This is a meticulous work of historical scholarship, tracing the evolution of the Supreme Court law clerk from its beginnings in the nineteenth century up to the present day. Refreshingly free of the gossip, politics, and rumors that have disfigured previous accounts of this important institution, the book manages to be not only scrupulous, but fascinating."—Richard Posner, Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

"This unique history of Supreme Court law clerks is a surprise gift to anyone who is fascinated by the Court as an institution. We have read or heard the recollections of individual clerks, but none of them could possibly tell this remarkable story of how the intimate work habits and thought processes of the Justices have evolved and been profoundly transformed over the last century."—Charles A. Reich, Yale Law School, former law clerk for Justice Hugo L. Black
"This is a fine piece of work, well and clearly written, and definitive as to the history and development of the position and work of Supreme Court law clerks. . . . It provides excellent background for understanding current debates about the role and influence of the clerks."—Steven Wasby, State University of New York at Albany
"Todd C. Peppers' Courtiers of the Marble Palace is a significant contribution to the sparse literature on the role and comprehension of the Supreme Court's law clerks, one that is all too frequently oversimplified and misinterpreted. Peppers evinces an admirable knowledge of the pertinent literature and has demonstrated a remarkable depth of research, much of it primary. His book merits close and sympathetic attention."—Henry J. Abraham, James Hart Professor Emeritus, Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics, University of Virginia
"Truly worthy and surprisingly accessible..."—Blue Ridge Business Journal
"Courtiers of the Marble Palace is a lively book about a significant subject."—The Federal Lawyer
"The data collected by Professor Peppers are vivid, engrossing, and compellingly presented....Courtiers provides rich fodder for scholars studying the Supreme Court."—Texas Law Review

"[Courtiers] exemplifies the scholarly benefits that come from applying the political scientist's tools to a legal institution."—University of Chicago Law Reviewx

From the Inside Flap

Since the hiring of the first Supreme Court law clerk by Associate Justice Horace Gray in the late 1880s, court observers and the general public have demonstrated a consistent fascination with law clerks and the influence—real or imagined—that they wield over judicial decisions. While initially each Supreme Court justice hired a single clerk, today's justices can hire up to four new law school graduates. The justices have taken advantage of this resource, and in modern times law clerks have been given greater job duties and more responsibility. The increased use of law clerks has spawned a controversy about the role they play, and commentators have suggested that liberal or conservative clerks influence their justices’ decision making. The influence debate is but one piece of a more important and largely unexamined puzzle regarding the hiring and utilization of Supreme Court law clerks.
Courtiers of the Marble Palace is the first systematic examination of the “clerkship institution”—the web of formal and informal norms and rules surrounding the hiring and utilization of law clerks by the individual justices on the United States Supreme Court. Todd Peppers provides an unprecedented view into the work lives of and day-to-day relationships between justices and their clerks; relationships that in some cases have extended to daily breakfasts, games of competitive basketball and tennis, and occasional holiday celebrations. Through personal interviews with fifty-three former clerks and correspondence with an additional ninety, as well as personal interviews with a number of non-clerks, including Justice Antonin Scalia, Peppers has amassed a body of information that reveals the true inner-workings of the clerkship institution.
With a Foreword by Professor Robert M. O'Neil of the University of Virginia School of Law, former President of the University of Virginia and former law clerk for Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford Law and Politics; 1 edition (April 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804753822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804753821
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #565,810 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am currently an associate professor of political science in the Department of Public Affairs at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia as well as a visiting professor of law at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. As a researcher and author, I write about judicial institutions, legal history, and capital punishment. Specifically, my interest in the history of law clerks in the federal judiciary was triggered by serving as a law clerk to a federal district court judge in Omaha, Nebraska and a federal magistrate judge in Roanoke, Virginia; my interest in capital punishment was sparked by a chance encounter with Laura Anderson, who served as a spiritual advisor to a death row inmate named Douglas Christopher Thomas. Chris's story can be found in our book "Anatomy of an Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas," which was published in the fall of 2009 by Northeastern University Press.

If you are interested in law clerks, then you might like my first book "Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk" (Stanford University Press, 2006). I continue to write about law clerks, and many of my articles can be found in the Journal of Supreme Court History. In March of 2012, University of Virginia Press published "In Chambers: Stories of Supreme Court Law Clerks and Their Justices." It is a series of essays about law clerks and their justices, and the volume was edited by myself and Artemus Ward.

I am presently working on two projects - another collection of essays about law clerks and their justices (which will be again published by UVA Press) and a biography on Marie McFadden Deans, who at one time was one of the most prominent death penalty opponents in the United States. During her career, Marie worked as a mitigation specialist on over 200 capital murder trials and stood "death watch" with 34 men on death row in Virginia and South Carolina.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on June 20, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of two current books discussing the role of Supreme Court law clerks, the other being "Sorcerers' Apprentices" by Ward and Weiden. This book takes a somewhat different approach from the Ward volume, in that it focuses historically on what clerks have done in their positions and how the role of the law clerk has been defined during different periods of the Court's history. Unlike Ward, Professor Peppers does not seek to assess in detail how contemporary clerks function in the cert. pool (which is not even explained until page 191), how clerks serve as communication conduits and coalition builders between chambers, or how they draft bench memos. Rather, his concern is to see how the role itself has changed over time: i.e., when did clerks begin to draft cert. memos, when did they first begin to participate in drafting opinions (in my opinion, an undue amount of attention is paid in both volumes to this issue), how were they selected by the Justices and what criteria were employed? The author has done a heroic job of research, since he covers the entire period of Court history, supplemented by an important range of over 50 interviews with former clerks. His appendices are chock full of useful information. The two books together reinforce and strengthen each other, with the happy result that we have for the first time a really meaningful examination of the important role clerks play at the big court. An exceptionally well-done contribution.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Robert Beveridge HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
Todd C. Peppers, Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk (Stanford, 2006)

When Todd Peppers and I were at school together, we had an English professor by the name of James Warren. Fantastic chap, he. I was put in mind of him while reading Todd's
Courtiers of the Marble Palace. Warren described to one of my classes the "German method" of scholarship, which includes "at least a hundred footnotes per page." This book doesn't go to quite that level, but when you've got almost a thousand footnotes in two hundred twelve pages of text, I think it's pretty safe to say you've covered your tracks well.

I'm not a lawyer. (Ironically, back in the day, I was planning on being a writer, and now here I am reviewing a book by someone who, as far as I know, had no designs on same.) I've never done much thinking about lawyers, in all honesty, so I was completely unaware that there was even a debate about whether the law clerks of Supreme Court justices were unduly influencing their opinions, much less that one had been raging for half a century. I'm not the target audience for Peppers' book, but by the time I was through, he almost had me convinced I was. I grant you, I had to look up some legal terms while I was reading, but not nearly as many as I expected I would have to. Imagine that-- a scholarly book about lawyers written almost completely in layman's terms. The very idea should be enough to spark your interest.

The actual writing also takes me back to our school days, because it's written very much in that sort of research-paper style we all developed somewhere along the lines during our school days: introduction, point, point, point, conclusion.
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Professor Peppers has done an admirable job of trying to research the history of the rise of the supreme court law clerk. Although clearly limited by the unavailability of some sources, the book is well-researched and well done.

Professor Peppers traces the history of the clerkship through three phases he calls the "stenographer, the "legal assistant" and the "law firm associate." His writing clearly backs up these labels and lends credence to his conclusions. The book tries to answer the question as to whether the clerks wield an inappropriate amount of power in the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. I think the author approached this topic with an open mind and concludes that the clerks do not have an inapproriate amount of power -- the tradeoff is that as the court's workload has increased and more clerks have been hired, the distance between the justices and the clerks has widened; this in turn has diminished the power of a clerk to influence a justice even as the clerks have had an increasingly greater role in the work of the court. He also explores the self-balancing mechanisms in the system.

Although Professor Peppers presents a strong case, as a lawyer involved in the writing of amici briefs in a number of cases during the cert phase, I am not totally persuaded. I think many of the sources go out of their way to emphasis the point that clerks do not really influence justices ('you protest too much'). In particular, I question the propriety of the 'cert pool' even more as a result of the book.

If the book has any fault, it seemed to jump around a bit as it followed a historical path, but given the nature of the subject, I am not sure there is a better one.
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