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Student publishes book exploring influence of law clerks on US judicial system

Second-year German and history student Madison Elder wrote “Beside the Nine: The Supreme Court through the Eyes of its Law Clerks” after being inspired to investigate the ways law clerks subtly impact the justice system. (Courtesy of Harrison Elder)

By Ashley Lifton

Feb. 19, 2020 10:22 p.m.

Madison Elder said her book examines the puppeteers of the judicial system.

The second-year German and history student wrote “Beside the Nine: The Supreme Court through the Eyes of its Law Clerks” and published it Dec. 2 because of her fascination with American history. By conducting interviews with former Supreme Court law clerks, she utilized firsthand accounts of the clerks’ relationships with the justices and the process behind becoming clerks. Elder said she wanted to educate people on the behind-the-scenes role law clerks play in the judicial system.

“The coolest thing was seeing the relationship between justices and clerks,” Elder said. “I never realized how tight their relationship was. I had clerks tell me that they spent the holidays with their justice, or clerks saying they brought their kids back to see their justice at the Supreme Court years later.”

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After discovering the Creator Institute her first year, Elder said the club helped connect her with the resources to help an aspiring writer. The club assists people with the interview process and helps to edit manuscripts. Toward the end of the process, it connects writers with publishers, such as New Degree Press, to publish their books, Elder said.

Through the club, Elder was introduced to Georgetown University professor Eric Koester, who helped Elder form cohesive thoughts and translate her ideas onto the page. He worked with her on editing her manuscript and condensing all of her interviews onto the page, and he said Elder’s passion for the field was evident in the amount of research she accomplished.

Elder said she spent hours studying law and the role law clerks play in the judicial system, and her curiosity drove her writing process. Koester said Elder’s dedication to research formed the foundation of her book.

Shadowing lawyers and writing about the Supreme Court was Elder’s initial concept for the story. In order to make this connection, Elder decided to focus on law clerks at the root of the judicial system to learn more about the influential role they have on judges in court.

After studying several law books, she said she interviewed lawyers, through which she learned about how the clerks are essentially judges’ right-hand men, as they take notes and act as sounding boards for ideas. Most people don’t hear about the clerks who are working tirelessly on forming opinions and are going back and forth with the justices. Koester had a similar revelation; he said information about the clerk’s role is hidden from most Americans because people are only aware of the judges who make the decisions.

“It is interesting to understand these important people who have a much bigger role in the judicial system that are essential, hidden heroes,” Koester said. “There is this group of people who work behind the scenes, but they are helping provide a lot of the tools that help the justices come to the most important decisions of our time.”

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After finalizing her research, Elder said she was put in contact with the head of publishing at New Degree Press, Brian Bies, who developed her story. Through the editing process, Bies said he learned more about the integral role clerks play in the judicial process.

“Elder’s book is coming at a time in U.S. political and judicial history where the Supreme Court, I would argue, has never had more authority, more presence and more scrutiny than it has ever before,” Bies said. “Elder’s book tells a story that not many people know about: what it is like being in the Supreme Court, and what that world is like.”

By including clerks’ first-hand accounts and their courtroom cases, Elder said she wanted to reveal the close relationships clerks have with their justices. She aimed to educate young people on the mentorship and relationships integral to the justice system, and she said she intends to write a sequel after attending law school as she learns more about the system.

“Today, a lot of debate focuses on the feelings of the government or the politicization of the court, but if you look at it, the founders prepared such a precise system for the U.S. government to function,” Elder said. “It gave me a lot more confidence in the court system.”

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Ashley Lifton
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