“Learn to read and read well,” West said. “Hillsdale is excellent preparation for both the study and practice of law.”
West joined Elliot Gaiser ’12 to speak to attendees about their experiences as United States Supreme Court clerks for Associate Justice Samuel Alito. They described the debates surrounding constitutional law and offered advice for Hillsdale students interested in careers in law.
The two former clerks traveled to campus to teach a one-week, one-credit course in constitutional interpretation.
Nathan Schlueter, professor of philosophy and religion and adviser to the Federalist Society, moderated the Q&A. Aided by questions from Schlueter, Gaiser and West explained their journey from Hillsdale College to the Supreme Court. West majored in philosophy at Hillsdale and graduated from Yale Law School in 2018. Gaiser majored in political economy and attended Ohio State University Moritz College of Law for a year before transferring to the University of Chicago to complete her law degree. Both worked for various law firms and clerked for federal judges before clerking for Alito.
During their year-long internships, Gaiser and West worked closely with Associate Justice Samuel Alito, conducting research and advising the judiciary on cases in the High Court.
“We sat there. We were there,” Gaiser said. “We observed the process. We were flies on the courtroom wall. We heard about how the court votes went and saw how opinions came together. We could see them up to the point where they were published and became the law of the case and the law of the land.
Gaiser and West described an environment of collegiality within the High Court, even among colleagues who disagreed on contentious legal issues. After a long day at work, employees in different offices would be ready to put aside their differences and enjoy each other’s company.
“One thing the clerks do is they have a happy hour every Thursday,” West said. “Each chamber takes a week to buy dinner and drinks for the other clerics. It’s a good opportunity to decompress a little with people with whom we don’t always agree.
Many questions from students followed a common theme that developed throughout the night’s discussion: declining trust in American institutions.
“I really think the answer is just to follow the law,” Gaiser said. “The laws we have are pretty good. They are a legacy and we should cherish it. The way you do that is that you conform to it. In cases where justice is not served, it is usually because the law has been broken. It is not because justice and the law are opposed.
Gaiser said he remains optimistic about America’s legal institutions. He assured the students that it was still possible to make changes in the current political and legal systems.
“There are a lot of people who never thought certain decisions would be made in their lifetime,” Gaiser said. “The little ladies who prayed for an end to segregation probably never thought that Brown v. Board of Education would happen. I think there are a lot of people who never thought they would see other decisions. So you don’t know what your life might hold for you and what good things might be part of it.
Schlueter, who taught the two panelists while they were in Hillsdale, said he was pleased with the event.
“I think the event was a success,” Schlueter said. “Good student attendance and feedback. The freshmen in particular got to see firsthand what a Hillsdale education can do, not just for career advancement, but for the whole person – for intellectual development and moral integrity.
Economics and public policy professor Gary Wolfram, who taught Gaiser at Hillsdale, said he was happy to see how far one of his former students had come in his career.
“It just makes you happy that maybe you had something to do with it,” Wolfram said. “Our graduates go above and beyond what one would otherwise expect.”
During the conference, West advised students interested in a career in law to work diligently in their courses.
Freshman Noah LoBue said he found the conference useful as a student interested in a career in law.
“Being a freshman, I just got out of high school,” LoBue said. “I feel like right now I don’t know anything. It’s really cool to see what I could be in the future, getting from point A to point B. There’s going to be a lot of hard work, but they give the impression that it is possible.