Although many senators boast law degrees, very few can brag about a different kind of credential: serving as a clerk for a justice on the Supreme Court, which returned for its fall term this week.
In fact, it seems that only two sitting senators have that distinction. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah clerked for Justice Samuel Alito in 2006, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun in 1974.
Blumenthal, a Democrat, said he and Lee, a Republican, have briefly talked about the common bond they shared when they first met.
Part of the reason that so few senators belong to this club is "just the sheer odds of it," Lee said.
Every year, the court's nine justices hire clerks. Most justices have four clerks, with the chief justice allowed to hire up to six.
The process is competitive, and the experience can certainly leave a lasting impression. Lee said it's given him "some significant understanding of what the review process would look like" for a law Congress passes, were it to go to the high court.
"Having clerked there, I'm certainly familiar with the procedures to some extent, and to some extent the personalities involved in any judicial challenge to a law we pass," he said.
Lee said he does a sort of constitutional analysis of legislation. "It's something I go through constantly, in just trying to do the odds in my own head," he said.
Blumenthal said that having clerked for a justice "doesn't really shape my votes" but the experience was "an extraordinary one because it provides tremendous insight into the nation's highest court, as well as the entire judicial process and constitutional law."
"It's also, at least for me, a tremendous opportunity to see great minds and personalities in the members of the court whom I watched, in particular Justice Harry Blackmun who was a wonderful mentor and eventually a very good friend," he said. "The Supreme Court clerkship certainly deepened my appreciation for how enforcement of laws is, in many ways, as important as making laws, and that there has to be attention given to all of the details and practicalities and real world effects of the laws.
But, Blumenthal added, his other experiences, including serving as a prosecutor, have all been important in shaping such a perspective.
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