PUBLISHED:February 01, 2010

Two Duke Law grads land Supreme Court clerkships

Amy Mason Saharia ’05 and Garrick Sevilla ’07 were two class years apart at Duke Law but they will find themselves in the same class of Supreme Court clerks. Both will begin yearlong high-court clerkships in July, Saharia with Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Sevilla with Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

Having applied to clerk on the Supreme Court in earlier terms, each was somewhat surprised — yet thrilled — to be invited by the justices to interview for positions for the coming term of the Court.

“Out of the blue, about three weeks ago, I got a call from Justice Sotomayor’s chambers asking me to come for an interview,” said Saharia, a litigation associate at Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C., who had originally applied to clerk for Sotomayor after her confirmation last summer. The justice offered Saharia the clerkship on Feb. 3, the same day they met in chambers. “It was very exciting, although it’s still a little hard to believe,” said Saharia, who previously clerked for Judge Robert N. Chatigny of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut and Judge Jon O. Newman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Newman, she said, originally encouraged her to apply to clerk for Sotomayor.

Sevilla, a litigation associate at Ellis & Winters in Raleigh, interviewed with Justice Alito in November 2007, when he was clerking for Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He was “somewhat confused” to receive a call in November 2009 from Alito’s assistant, asking if he might still be interested in a clerkship. “But this was like lightning striking — it was hard to say no to this opportunity,” said Sevilla, who received the offer from Alito on Dec. 11, just days before the birth of his second son. “I guess he still thought of me after all this time.”

Hearing of the latest achievements of these two recent graduates delighted Dean David F. Levi who provided recommendations for both.

“Having clerked for Justice Powell on the Supreme Court myself, and then having forged so many wonderful relationships with my own law clerks during my time as a United States District Judge, I know the value of clerking to the clerk, the judge, and the legal profession,” said Levi. “This will be a wonderful experience for Garrick and Amy, and we are proud of their accomplishments.

“Many Duke Law graduates will clerk this year in state and federal courts, at all levels,” he added. “Our clerkship committee of faculty and staff work incredibly hard to help students find these unique opportunities. Fortunately for us, over the years, many judges have come to see Duke Law graduates as among their very best law clerks.”

Saharia: “I loved clerking”

“I loved clerking,” said Saharia of her earlier clerkships. “What I loved about both of the clerkships was the diversity of cases and being able to develop expertise in some area of the law that you knew nothing about before you started working on a case.” Both clerkships allowed her to develop skills and perspectives that she has found valuable in her practice.

“In the District Court you are seeing motions to amend, motions for class certification, all sorts of motions you didn’t even know existed in law school,” she said. “You see how a case progresses and see cases at all different stages. It enables you to absorb things more quickly once in practice and to contribute to the development of the case more effectively.

“In my Court of Appeals clerkship I did quite a lot of writing. I’ve had the opportunity to draft a lot of pleadings and briefs at the firm, and I think the experience on the Court of Appeals helped refine my writing skills,” said Saharia.

Her clerkships left other lasting impressions. “Judge Chatigny really stressed the importance of making sure the courts were accessible to everyone.” said Saharia. “It’s something that has stuck with me.”

A highlight of Saharia’s appellate clerkship was her work with Judge Newman on Iqbal v. Hasty (heard in the Supreme Court as Ashcroft v. Iqbal), a case that arose out of the post-9/11 detention of individuals suspected of having connections to terrorism. “It was an important case in terms of procedural pleading requirements and the substantive rights of detainees in the aftermath of 9/11,” she said. “Just having the opportunity to work on a case of such importance was very meaningful to me.”

Saharia anticipates returning to a litigation practice further informed by her capstone clerkship experience on the Supreme Court. It’s a career she never envisioned when she joined the Foreign Service in 1999, anticipating a diplomatic career. But working alongside lawyers on international intellectual property issues while posted to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, introduced her to the breadth of legal work beyond litigation — which held no interest for her at the time. Her relationship with her future husband, then a Duke medical student, brought her to Duke Law, where she was accepted as a Mordecai Scholar.

“I came into law school thinking I would do international trade law or something along the lines of what I had done in the Foreign Service. Instead, I found myself loving courses like Civil Procedure and Federal Courts, which I took with Professor [Thomas] Rowe,” she said. “That was kind of a formative experience for me. It confirmed that clerking was what I actually wanted to do.

“And now, much to my surprise, I am a litigator. When I applied to law school, the idea that I would one day apply to clerk on the Supreme Court was never in my mind — and now here I am.”

Saharia will be an “outstanding” Supreme Court clerk, according to James Coleman, the Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law, who interviewed her for her Mordecai Scholarship before she enrolled at Duke. “The other members of the panel and I agreed that she was one of the most outstanding candidates we had interviewed in several years,” he said. “As a student, both in the classroom and as a member of our community, she exceeded even the very high expectations I had after meeting her for the first time.

“Although Amy is a quiet and relatively soft-spoken person, she never failed to impress members of the faculty who met her for the first time in meetings; inevitably, they would ask, ‘Who was that student?’”

Sevilla: Marine officer to litigator

Like Saharia, Sevilla anticipates continuing his career in litigation following his clerkship with Justice Alito. In addition to revisiting the justice’s passion for the Philadelphia Phillies and his own for his hometown San Diego Padres during their November meeting, Sevilla told Alito about his interest in trying cases and making arguments before judges.

“Effective advocacy requires the ability to plainly and sharply express an idea,” noted Sevilla. “When you’re at the United States Supreme Court, you work on very important and complicated matters. But you also have the benefit of briefs from advocates of the highest caliber. I think getting to read and evaluate those arguments will improve my own ability to formulate arguments in any context.”

Sevilla looks forward to helping Alito “think through” all parts of an issue, a part of his appellate clerkship with Judge Brown that he particularly enjoyed. “It was a continuation of the ability to think critically about issues that began in law school,” he said. “Where that ability was enhanced was in the process of advising her on how to decide cases on appeal and in the process of helping her draft an opinion. Those processes demand critical thinking.”

He also thinks the tilt of the D.C. Circuit’s docket towards issues of administrative law will serve him well in his upcoming clerkship. “Many of the issues we dealt with were very technical,” he said. “Learning to explain them in a written opinion or in recommendations to the judge has been very beneficial [in my practice] and I know will help me working at the Supreme Court.”

Having been in the naval ROTC throughout his undergraduate years at Duke, Sevilla was commissioned as an artillery officer in the Marine Corps on his 2000 graduation and served on active duty through the spring of 2004. Deployed to Kuwait in February 2003, his unit moved into Iraq shortly after the initial invasion and stayed through August. Sevilla recalled, with a laugh, buying an LSAT study guide in Australia and studying for the test aboard a homebound ship. “I took the LSAT as soon as I got off the boat,” he said.

Sevilla said he “matured” in the service feels it informed his approach to his studies, career, and life. He said he treated law school “very seriously,” recognizing instantly the importance of conducting himself professionally in the classroom and approaching his studies in a professional manner. “I think that mentality really helped me through law school, and I attribute all of that to my time in the service.”

He also found mentors at Duke Law School, he said. These included Professor Curtis Bradley, the Horvitz Professor of Law and Public Policy Studies, who impressed him with his rigorous style of thinking, and Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, now dean of the University of California, Irvine law school for whom Sevilla was a research assistant. “Seeing how he thought, reasoned, and developed arguments was very helpful to me,” said Sevilla. The support of Dean Levi and Professor Sara Sun Beale, who helped him with his initial clerkship application to the Supreme Court was also instrumental to him, he said.

For her part, Beale, the Lowndes Professor of Law, is certain that Alito will be highly satisfied with his decision to hire Sevilla. “Garrick was in my Federal Criminal Law class during his last semester, and he did a spectacular job,” she said. “He has since gained experience clerking for the D.C. Circuit and then practicing with a top-notch litigation boutique. He will be an exceptionally good clerk.”