Of Courtiers and Kings: More Stories of Supreme Court Law Clerks and Their Justices
In his first four years on the Supreme Court, Justice Robert H. Jackson employed, in sequence, three young attorneys as his law clerks. The first, John F. Costelloe, was a Harvard Law School graduate and former Harvard Law Review editor who until summer 1941 was, like then attorney general Jackson, working at the U.S. Department of Justice. Costelloe became Justice Jackson’s first law clerk shortly after his July 1941 appointment to the Court and stayed for a little over two years. Jackson’s next law clerk, Phil C. Neal, came to Jackson in 1943 after graduating from Harvard Law School, where he had served as president of the Harvard Law Review. Jackson’s third law clerk, Murray Gartner, arrived in spring 1945, also having graduated from Harvard Law School and serving as Harvard Law Review president.
At one level, the Harvard, Harvard, Harvard, star, star, star pattern of Justice Jackson’s early law clerk hiring is no surprise. Supreme Court clerkships were then, as they are now, demanding jobs for very bright, very well trained, very skillful young lawyers. Costelloe, Neal, and Gartner were all of that, both naturally and thanks to the Harvard Law School. They also came to Jackson highly recommended by his son William E. Jackson, who himself became a Harvard Law School student in fall 1941, just a few weeks before his father first sat on the Supreme Court bench. During the next two years, Bill Jackson served with Phil Neal and Murray Gartner on the Harvard Law Review and was influential at recommending that his father hire them as law clerks.
At another level, Justice Jackson’s early law clerk hiring pattern is surprising. Jackson was no snob, and, more to the point, he was no Harvard man. Robert Jackson graduated from public schools in western New York State and never attended college. Indeed, he barely attended law school—he attended Albany Law School in 1911–12 for only the “senior” year of its two-year program. Jackson studied to become a lawyer, albeit an excellent and in time a prominent one, mostly by serving as an apprentice to two lawyers in Jamestown, New York. Thirty years later, Jackson had risen through private practice and notable public service, including as solicitor general of the United States and then as attorney general of the United States, to become a Supreme Court justice who hired as his law clerks some of the top graduates of Harvard Law School. He was happy with their work and fond of them personally.
In 1947, Justice Jackson tried something different. Following the three Harvard Law School men, Jackson hired a Temple Law School graduate to be his next law clerk. This man had been a successful law student, but in a non-elite law school and, indeed, in its night school division. His name was James Milton Marsh, and this is the story of how he became, improbably, a Supreme Court law clerk.