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Sorcerers' Apprentices: 100 Years of Law Clerks at the United States Supreme Court

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ISBN-13: 978-0814794203
ISBN-10: 0814794203
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Provides excellent insight into the inner workings of the Supreme Court, how it selects cases for review, what pressures are brought to bear on the justices, and how the final opinions are produced. Recommended for all academic libraries.”
-Library Journal



“Ward and Weiden have produced that rare book that is both a meticulous piece of scholarship and a good read. The authors have . . . sifted through a varied and voluminous amount of archival material, winnowing out the chaff and leaving the excellent wheat for our consumption. They marry this extensive archival research with original survey data, using both to great effect.”
-Law and Politics Book Review



“Well-written, needed, and nicely done.”
-Choice



“The main quibble . . . with contemporary law clerks is that they wield too much influence over their justices’ opinion-writing. Artemus and Weiden broaden this concern to the clerks’ influence on the thinking of the justices about how to decide cases.”
-Slate.com



“Helps illuminate the inner workings of an institution that is still largely shrouded in mystery.”
-The Wall Street Journal Online

About the Author

David L. Weiden is assistant professor of politics and government and director of the legal studies program at Illinois State University.



Artemus Ward is assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, and author of Deciding To Leave: The Politics of Retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (January 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814794203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814794203
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,010,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Artemus Ward is professor of political science at Northern Illinois University. He received his Ph.D. from the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University and was a Congressional Fellow on the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC. His books include Deciding to Leave: The Politics of Retirement from the United States Supreme Court (2003), Sorcerers' Apprentices: 100 Years of Law Clerks at the United States Supreme Court (2006), In Chambers: Stories of Law Clerks and Their Justices (2012), The Puzzle of Unanimity: Consensus on the United States Supreme Court (2013), and American Judicial Process: Myth and Reality in Law and Courts (2015). His articles have appeared in such outlets as Congress & the Presidency, Journal of Supreme Court History, Justice System Journal, Marquette Law Review, Political Analysis, Tulsa Law Review, and White House Studies. His research and commentary has been featured by the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, NBC Nightly News, Fox News, and C-SPAN and he is a two-time award winner of the Hughes-Gossett Prize for historical excellence from the Supreme Court Historical Society.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on May 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The role of Supreme Court law clerks became somewhat controversial when former clerk William Rehnquist, then in private practice, wrote a highly influential magazine article in 1957 alleging that clerks asserted undue influence over their Justices which impacted on the Court's decisions. Since then, the issue has popped up every so often, usually generating much more heat than light in examinating the role of clerks. Fortunately, we now have probably as solid an analysis of the role of clerks as we will ever get in this fine book by two political scientists.

The authors have reviewed all printed material on clerks, checked judicial biographies, surveyed oral history collections, conducted extensive interviews, and submitted an extensive written questionnaire to 600 former clerks selected on a random basis. The picture that emerges is skillfully developed, with helpful charts and figures, as well as an exceptionally detailed set of notes and bibliography for those interested in further research. At around 250 pages, the authors have managed to strike a beneficial balance between detail and survey, so the narrative moves along smoothly.

The authors discuss all key issues relating to clerks: selection, their critical role in reviewing cert. petitions and making recommendations, the drafting of bench memos, serving as communication conduits and coalition builders between chambers, and the all-important and most controversial element, their role in drafting opinions for their Justices. I think it fair to say that the authors conclude that clerks do have influence in the Court's decision-making process, but not to the extent of manipulating results.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By P. M. Bradshaw on July 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
A book ten years in the making, Sorcerers' Apprentices is an intriguing and sometimes unsettling look at the world of law clerks. Most people know precious little about this field. Ward and Weiden provide an eye-opener.

Being a law clerk is to basically be a research assistant for a judge. Being that the United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, being a clerk for an U.S. Supreme Court judge (a `Justice') is the pinnacle in this field. As former clerks to a Supreme Court Justice, these young men and women will be the most sought after candidates at law firms across the country. Many will later be offered judgeships themselves.

After a decade of research, pouring through the personal papers of justices and court employees, and interviews with former clerks, the authors discovered that the law clerk went from being little more than a secretary in the 1930's to a position of enormous power today. Perhaps the greatest power is in the "certiorari process" of choosing what cases the Supreme Court will hear. Of the over 8,000 cases submitted annually to the Supreme Court, only a few hundred perhaps will be heard. It would appear that the law clerks suggestions to their respective Justices on which cases to hear has had a great impact on the types of cases heard. And changes on the constitutionality of specific laws in specific areas literally changes people's lives.

Another issue of concern is that for some Justices, the bulk of their decisions may come not from legal research, but from the opinions written by their law clerks. Some have gone so far as to say that in some cases it is the law clerk who actually writes the final opinion; the Justice simply signing it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Holly Blaine on June 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is an excellent look at the changing roles that Supreme Court clerks have played over the last 100 years. I highly recommend this to anyone who is curious about the workings of the Supreme Court. The writing is clear and enjoyable - definitely not just for law geeks!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By WEK on June 3, 2013
Format: Paperback
A more scholarly approach to the same topic as the wonderful book, In Chambers, which is exactly what I wanted and expected. The data and analysis goes up through the Rhenquist Court in 2002, and is very interesting. More interesting at this point, however, is how well it (perhaps unintentionally) sets the stage for a follow-up work. The time for that, I think, is coming soon. We have ten more years of data, four new justices, nearly eight years since the birth of the Roberts Court, and a shift in public perception of the Court. I'd be very interested to see a follow-up some time in the next five years.
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