WAHS grad clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice

For an aspiring attorney, there are few positions that can open doors like clerking for the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Just ask 2002 Warren Area High School graduate Ben Snyder, who clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts during the 2012-2013 term.

Snyder completed law school at Harvard in 2011 and proceeded to clerk for Judge Jeffrey Sutton, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Columbus, Ohio.

After a year in the position, Snyder applied to clerk on the U.S. Supreme Court.

And, yes, the process starts by simply submitting an application.

Snyder said in a recent interview that his application led to a “very cool interview.” He explained each of the nine justices hire four clerks and “all of those clerks have previously worked for a federal circuit court judge.” After submission of the application, the justices then bring in individuals for interviews.

For Snyder, that meant an interview with Chief Justice Roberts. “A few months later he called and asked (if I would clerk for him). I, of course, was delighted to do so.”

But what does a clerk do? Snyder said that the responsibilities of clerks on the Supreme Court vary by the justice they work for.

“The basic theme is that the lawyers put together their briefs…. The law clerks will sit down and read through the briefs. (That) gives you a pretty good idea of what kind of arguments there are.”

The clerks are then tasked with digging deeper into the case, gathering more information on the issue and “will frequently talk through it with other clerks in the chamber.”

Talking through it is a strategy that Roberts employs.

“The Chief really likes to talk through cases,” said Snyder, “(to) sit down and talk about the arguments on each side of the case. He was one of the best lawyers in private practice before he became a judge (and) is incredibly sharp.

“The Chief is such a great writer,” he added. “(It was) a great experience for me as a young lawyer to see how he would approach a question and frame the arguments.”

After a case is heard by the justices in argument, they then enter conference to decide the outcome. Subsequently, draft after draft of the decision, a document which outlines the court’s reasoning, are circulated and “at the end of the day you have something that comes out and is published and becomes a law.”

In public, Roberts presents as very composed and almost reserved individual. Working with him gives Snyder a unique view into the Chief Justice as a man.

“He is very funny and I think that comes through in his public comments and his writing,” said Snyder. “He really likes to make points in a way that (is) widely accessible and often he does that through humor.”

Snyder recounted the stories that Roberts would share during lunch and said it was “kind of surreal” to be hearing such stories from a person in as powerful a position as Roberts’. “That was one of my favorite parts of the experience, getting to see what a great man he is and a great leader. One of the things I like about him so much is that he appreciates being in a position of authority. Being Chief Justice carries with it a great deal of authority (and) can make people nervous, and he does a lot to dispel that.

“He never raised his voice through an entire year of clerking,” Snyder added. “He was even-keeled. I think that lets him get the best out of the people he works with because they feel comfortable talking to him and don’t get shut down.”

For Snyder, who said he would “love to be in a position to argue cases before the court or before other appellate courts” in the future, the experience of clerking for Roberts has enhanced his understanding of what it will take to meet that goal.

“I think getting the opportunity to work for the Chief has given me a greater understanding of what is effective and what is not effective in doing that,” he said. “Over the course of my year at the Supreme Court and year before clerking (in Columbus), I read tons and tons of briefs so you get a sense of how you can make points that are easy to understand and convincing. (You) also see a lot of people arguing before the court so I think it taught me a lot.”

He said the opportunity “also opened a lot of doors in terms of opportunities I had coming out of the clerkship to get a job in a difficult economy. That has certainly been a blessing.”