In an Army of Clerks
Hannah C. Smith, 2013 Alumni Achievement Award winner, J. Reuben Clark Law School
During the confirmation battle of Justice Alito to the Supreme Court in 2005, an “army of former clerks” emerged to stand by him. Among this group was Hannah Clayson Smith (JD ’2001) and her husband, John M. (JD ’2001). Both had clerked for then-Judge Alito on the 3rd Circuit Court, possibly the first husband-wife duo to ever clerk at the same time.
“It was really a special time,” she says. “All of his former clerks got involved in the process of supporting his nomination.” The Smiths traveled to Nebraska and South Dakota to meet with Democratic senators who might have been convinced to vote for Alito’s nomination. They spoke to senators, staff, and constituents, participated in talk shows, and were interviewed frequently.
It all culminated with President George W. Bush inviting many of the clerks to the White House for a meeting with the President and a press conference. “He stood at the podium, and all of the clerks flanked Bush on either side. We listened while he asked the Senate to confirm Alito, which they did,” Smith remembers.
“We had success showing people who Justice Alito really was. I really think it made a difference,” she says. “I don’t recall any previous confirmation battle having such support from former clerks.”
After Alito joined the Supreme Court, he asked Hannah Smith to clerk for his first six months on the court—all that remained of the term. During that time, she also wrote a book on how to be a clerk for Justice Alito.
But what makes Smith even more unique is that this was her second Supreme Court clerkship, an incredibly rare event. In 2003, she had clerked with Justice Thomas.
According to Smith, a clerkship with Justice Thomas teaches you how to do things right. “He sets a very high bar for his clerks, and they are very well-trained,” she says. This experience became essential as she helped Justice Alito begin his chambers.
“Justice Thomas was very generous with his time,” she recalls. “He held extended meetings that would start out about cases, but then transition to life and his advice about what is important in careers, families, and futures.” Even today, Justice Thomas has monthly lunches for his former clerks.
Now, Smith is senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Smith has been involved in all three of the Supreme Court cases for which the Becket Fund has represented clients and has won every case. “Each were significant victories for religious freedom, and it was an honor and privilege to be on the legal team,” she says. “From Anglicans to Zoroastrians, we defend people of all faiths.”
Smith is also involved in the Becket Fund’s media efforts and has been interviewed for major news networks and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on religious freedom. “It started when I was doing radio work for Justice Alito and his nomination,” she reveals.
“By being knowledgeable, available, and willing to help in whatever capacity, you can be involved in religious freedom.”