Manuel Valle ’11 will become Hillsdale’s seventh graduate in the past eight years to clerk for a Supreme Court justice. During the October 2021 term, Valle will clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas.
Professor of Philosophy and Religion Nathan Schlueter, who is also the faculty adviser for the college’s Federalist Society, said Valle will be the second Hillsdale graduate to clerk for Thomas. Schlueter said Hillsdale’s core curriculum and professors prepare students for success at law school.
Megan Lacy ’07 is currently a clerk for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Michael Francisco ’04 is clerking for Justice Neil Gorsuch.
“Hillsdale taught me how to think through problems and be grounded in the matters of the Constitution and Western values,” Francisco said. “It was a challenging education that gave me the skills I needed to succeed as a lawyer.”
Valle studied English and Latin at Hillsdale and said there was not a class at law school that pushed him as much as his freshman year English class with Professor of English Justin Jackson.
“Hillsdale’s rigorous liberal-arts education gives you fundamental skills that are necessary for studying law, especially the ability to analyze difficult texts and then write clearly about them in a way that’s easy for people to understand,” Valle said.
After teaching at Glendale Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, Arizona, for three years, Valle attended law school at the University of Chicago and graduated in 2017.
Upon earning his law degree, Valle began his first clerkship in August 2017 for Hon. Edith H. Jones of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Houston, Texas.
Jones said she was most impressed with Valle’s humility and extraordinary legal talent.
“The qualities I most value in clerks are diligence in legal research and reviewing the trial court record and briefs, plus accuracy in all the details of case management, writing conventions, citations, plus the ability to spot issues our court has to tackle, and finally, the ability to write clearly and on deadlines,” Jones said in an email. “Manuel entered the clerkship exhibiting all these qualities, which is most unusual because for him as for most clerks this was his first real job in the law.”
Valle said he was fortunate to clerk for Jones because she is a phenomenal judge and an incredible mentor.
“I would not have considered applying for the Supreme Court clerkship if not for her guidance and support,” Valle said. “Judge Jones helped me understand how to approach the law because I had been just out of law school, where everything is still theoretical. She is so principled in her approach to the cases. Every single one matters to her.”
After his clerkship with Jones, Valle moved to Michigan and clerked for Hon. Joan Larsen of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Valle said Larsen clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia and previously served on the Michigan Supreme Court.
“I learned a tremendous amount from her,” Valle said. “She was also very supportive in the Supreme Court application,” Valle said. “It was an amazing experience to work for her during her first full year in the Sixth Circuit, when she was dealing with many issues for the first time as a federal judge.”
One difference between clerking for the court of appeals and the Supreme Court, Valle said, is that the Supreme Court isn’t bound by the decisions of a higher court.
“Circuit courts don’t often have cause to decide a case based on the original meaning of the Constitution because they’re bound to apply the Supreme Court precedent,” Valle said. “Working for Justice Thomas there will be more spent analyzing the current legal doctrine and trying to square it with the original meaning of the Constitution, and that’s something that’s really exciting for me.”
Valle said Thomas has always been a judicial hero for him ever since his parents gave him Thomas’ autobiography “My Grandfather’s Son.” Since reading this book, Valle said he considers Thomas to be one of the greatest legal thinkers, and greatest American public figure alive today.
Valle said he has also heard numerous stories from those who know, speaking to Thomas’s kindness and sincerity.
“I think you can see the kind of person he is from his writing and from his speeches –– totally sincere and committed to doing his job even when it’s very difficult, even when the court ultimately does not adopt his views.”
Lecturer of Mathematics Jonathan Gregg, ’11, taught with Valle at Glendale Preparatory Academy and also attended graduate school at the University of Chicago during the same time Valle attended its law school. Valle and Gregg have become great friends since graduating, and Gregg said if he had to describe Valle in one word it would be “sincere.”
“What you see is always what you get with Manuel,” Gregg said. “He’s never hiding anything; he’s an authentic person. And he lives exactly by the way in which he claims to and believes in. If he believes it’s good, then he lives by it.”
Looking back on law school, Valle said that he, like many law students, was moved by Thomas’ powerful majority opinions and dissents. Over the past 30 years, Thomas has influenced the law in meaningful ways, Valle said.
Before his clerkship for Thomas, Valle will spend the next two years working on appellate litigation at Sidley Austin LLP in Washington, D.C.
Valle said he’s anticipating that his year clerking for Thomas will be one of the busiest and most demanding of his entire life, especially since he will have four kids, at least, when he begins his clerkship. But he said he is also confident that his clerkship year will be one of the most rewarding experiences he will ever have.