As Justice John Paul Stevens returns to the Supreme Court for the final time to lie in repose, he will be accompanied by about 80 of his former clerks, 12 of whom will serve as honorary pallbearers as others line the steps of the marble building as his casket arrives.
Once inside, the clerks are expected to rotate “standing vigil” over the casket while well-wishers pay their respects.
Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and retired Justice Anthony Kennedy participated in a brief ceremony in the great hall Monday morning. Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas all had long-standing commitments, according to the court’s public information officer. Ashley Kavanaugh attended the ceremony, and retired Justice David Souter is expected to attend Tuesday’s private burial.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump paid their respects to Stevens at the court late Monday morning. The first couple stopped in front of the late justice’s casket for a few moments and then viewed his portrait. Before paying his respects, the President greeted and briefly spoke with Roberts.
The relationship between a clerk and a justice can be very powerful as the clerk — often just a few years out of law school — has the rare opportunity to experience the law at the highest echelons. Later, the justice serves as a mentor as career choices develop.
During their term, clerks are sworn to secrecy while they serve incredibly long hours. Former clerks say that Stevens always wrote his first drafts of his opinions, but that the law school graduates he hired each term would weigh in, researching legal authorities and citations as the drafting process continued.
While some justices “pool” their clerks to streamline an effort to review the thousands of petitions that come before the court each term, Stevens eschewed that system. Always a maverick, he wanted his clerks in his chamber to review each petition in an effort, perhaps, to avoid group think at the court.
Over the years, Stevens’ clerks would return for frequent reunions, most recently after his final book was published. They stayed in close touch with the justice, sometimes as a de facto family. They helped him, he said, craft some of his writing since leaving the bench.
Stevens’ clerks include judges such as David Barron, Pamela Harris and Alison J. Nathan, noted law professors such as Jeffrey L. Fisher, Nicholas Bagley and Cliff Sloan, as well as Ian Gershengorn, who served as former acting solicitor general, and Christopher Eisgruber, who is the president of Princeton University.
“Stevens was kind, gentle, down to earth, always carrying an amused glint in his eye and a delighted smile on his face,” Sloan, a dean’s visiting scholar at Georgetown University Law center who served as a clerk during the 1985 term, wrote of the former justice.
“Above all, Stevens knew that the majesty of the law comes when the Supreme Court rises above being a predictable political player, when it acts, and is seen as acting, as an impartial guardian of the rule of law even if one disagrees with its individual decisions,” Sloan wrote.