Supreme Court Rules, Practices, and Traditions
What functions do law clerks serve?
Law clerks often serve as an initial screener of the thousands of cases that are appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. They will often write memos explaining to the justices which cases are “certworthy,” or worthy of their attention. Nearly all of the justices (except Justice John Paul Stevens) pool their clerks together in a “cert pool” to examine the thousands of petitions that come to the Court each year. Justice Lewis Powell proposed the idea of the cert pool in 1972 to save time and increase efficiency. Critics charge that it gives too much power to the law clerks. Justice Stevens does not participate and his law clerks review all petitions that are filed before the Court. The two newest members of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito are in the cert pool, despite Roberts’s criticism of the cert pool phenomenon in 1997. Some experts have predicted that Chief Justice Roberts may reform the cert pool practice.
The law clerks also write research memoranda and draft opinions for the justices. The responsibility of law clerks obviously depends upon each particular justice.