The Judicial Genealogy (and Mythology) of John Roberts: Clerkships from Gray to Brandeis to Friendly to Roberts

96 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2010

See all articles by Brad Snyder

Brad Snyder

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: December 8, 2010


During his Supreme Court nomination hearings, John Roberts idealized and mythologized the first judge he clerked for, Second Circuit Judge Henry Friendly, as the sophisticated judge-as-umpire. Thus far on the Court, Roberts has found it difficult to live up to his Friendly ideal, particularly in several high-profile cases. This Article addresses the influence of Friendly on Roberts and judges on law clerks by examining the roots of Roberts's distinguished yet unrecognized lineage of former clerks: Louis Brandeis's clerkship with Horace Gray, Friendly's clerkship with Brandeis, and Roberts's clerkships with Friendly and Rehnquist. Labeling this lineage a judicial genealogy, this Article reorients clerkship scholarship away from clerks' influences on judges to judges' influences on clerks. It also shows how Brandeis, Friendly, and Roberts were influenced by their clerkship experiences and how they idealized their judges. By laying the clerkship experiences and career paths of Brandeis, Friendly, and Roberts side-by-side in detailed primary source accounts, this Article argues that judicial influence on clerks is more professional than ideological and that the idealization of judges and emergence of clerkships as must-have credentials contribute to a culture of judicial supremacy.

Keywords: John Roberts, judicial clerkships, Henry Friendly, Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, law clerks

Suggested Citation

Snyder, Brad, The Judicial Genealogy (and Mythology) of John Roberts: Clerkships from Gray to Brandeis to Friendly to Roberts (December 8, 2010). Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 71, No. 1149, 2010, Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1146, Available at SSRN: or

Brad Snyder (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

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Madison, WI 53706
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608-262-1015 (Phone)


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