Clerking for a judge is one way that law students and lawyers get training. It’s an opportunity to see legal practice in action and to deal with some of its biggest challenges. Clerks research legal issues and help draft opinions for judges in the hopes of someday reaching the same lofty heights as their bosses.
Neil Gorsuch, confirmed now for the US Supreme Court, has accomplished this. He’s going to sit on the highest court in the land. And not only that, he will be deciding cases alongside his former boss, Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom Gorsuch clerked in 1993 and 1994. (Gorsuch had been hired by Justice Byron White, who retired during the clerkship).
This is a first—no other justice has sat on the bench with his former high-court boss before.
Gorsuch is slightly younger than most other justices have been when appointed; at just 49, he’s also the first Generation-X justice, a fact noted at the start of his confirmation hearings and evidenced by some of his references. For example, when challenged about the state of the law, he quoted novelist David Foster Wallace, whose first novel was published around the same time Gorsuch was just starting out as a legal writer.
Gorsuch’s predecessor, Antonin Scalia, was appointed to the bench at age 50. Kennedy was appointed at 52; he’s now 80. Stephen Breyer was 56 when appointed and is currently 78. Chief Justice John Roberts, 5o when appointed, is 62. Samuel Alito was appointed at age 55 and is now 67.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was 60 when she joined the high court and is now 80. Sonia Sotomayor was 54 when appointed and is now 62. Elena Kagan, 50 upon appointment, is now 56.
Gorsuch is not the youngest judge to reach the current court—Clarence Thomas was only 43 when he was confirmed (he’s now 68).
Kennedy has often been a deciding vote on cases, and it’s easy to imagine Gorsuch finding Kennedy’s reasoning on legal issues compelling. But Gorsuch isn’t a kid fresh out of law school anymore—even if he will be the freshman on the court.