Lake Oswego High School class of 2009 graduate Caroline Lindsay just began a year-long clerkship with United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, but she didn't always plan to pursue constitutional law.
When Lindsay entered LOHS, she wanted to be an actress. It wasn't until she encountered the school's Constitutional Law electives, taught by Jefferson Moore and Gerrit Koepping, that she realized her true passion.
Lindsay visited Koepping's Constitutional Law class Friday, Aug. 30, to tell students about her career trajectory, upcoming clerkship and her love of constitutional law.
"It's an amazing opportunity to have," she said.
The Constitutional Law program at LOHS is "an avenue for students to explore the Constitution, civil liberties, civil rights, and a practical understanding of law," according to the course description. The class attempts to show students "how the law strives to promote fairness, equal justice, and individual rights."
Lindsay said that her attitude toward school changed when she discovered the class, as well as mock trial and the Classroom Law Project's "We the People" program, a hands-on curriculum designed to foster understanding of American democracy, the Constitution and Bill of Rights. "For the first time, school was actually fun," she told the LOHS students. "(Those programs) were the first tastes I had of the legal world and the legal profession. I realized some of my natural talents for argumentation could be put to use for a higher purpose."
When Lindsay graduated from high school, she attended University of San Diego for her undergraduate degree and earned her law degree at the University of Chicago Law School.
After passing the bar exam, Lindsay went on to work for a judge in Chicago, where she was one of four law clerks who helped the judge prepare for oral argument and decide cases. Lindsay clerked in the Seventh Circuit of the US Court of Appeals, which is where a case goes if the verdict reached in trial court is appealed.
This kind of work is called "appellate law," and is done mostly in writing. Lindsay prefers practicing appellate law because she is drawn to solving complex legal questions (which is a big part of appeals) more than developing the facts of a case (which is a big part of trials).
"The Constitution presents a really good opportunity to make the world a better place and help advocate for truth," she said. "You're not just arguing for whoever is paying you. You're able to establish order and the truth in the law, and bring that back to the extent that it's gone astray."
Lindsay said that every clerkship is different, because judges are left to decide how much responsibility to give their clerks. Judges' decisions in appellate court are issued in writing, and are called "opinions."
"You're basically explaining how the law works in a specific case," Lindsay said. "A lot of judges will let you write the first draft of an opinion. These opinions are really what the law is, so it's cool to have a part in that."
After clerking for the appellate courts, Lindsay worked for a law firm, then for the circuit court in Washington D.C., before applying to clerk for the Supreme Court. She said getting hired for the prestigious position is "a lot of work, but it's also a lot of luck and who you know."
Lindsay said she benefitted from having great mentors in law school and throughout her career, and received a good recommendation as a trustworthy person. "You're trusted with a lot of confidential information and you work very closely with the justice, so it's important that they have someone they can trust," she said. "I was very fortunate and honored to be hired by Justice Thomas."
As a law clerk for the Supreme Court, Lindsay said her work will be similar to what she did in the Court of Appeals. "We similarly review the briefs that the parties file, prepare the justices for oral argument and help the justice with their opinions."
The main difference, she said, is that the Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction, which means the justices decide what cases (out of the thousands put forth each year) they will hear. Lindsay said those decisions frequently hinge on whether the lower courts are divided on the issue. "It's the same federal statute, so the interpretation should be the same across the country," she said. "That's called a circuit split."
Many people who apply to clerk for the Supreme Court apply to every judge, as Lindsay did. They are selected by the Justice, who is sometimes assisted by current or former law clerks. Lindsay said she is looking forward to learning from Justice Thomas this year. "He's been on the court the longest, and he has so much wisdom and experience," she said.
Lindsay told the LOHS students that while it's great to succeed in your career, it's important to make sure you're still enjoying life. "Always remember that life is about more than what you're doing academically or career-wise," she said.
Lindsay ended her talk by thanking Koepping and all of her teachers at LOHS. "I owe them a lot of gratitude," she said. "I encourage you all to think about your schooling experience (in terms of) how you will look back on it in ten years, and appreciate the opportunities you have here."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.