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Alumni to clerk for Supreme Court jus­tices| Archives

Three Hillsdale alumni are clerking for the Supreme Court in the term that begins next month.

Garrett West Jr. ’15, Elliot Gaiser ’12, and Manuel Valle ’11 began their new jobs in July. They join six other Hillsdale alumni who have served as clerks for the court in the last 25 years, according to a college press release.

West and Gaiser are law clerks for Asso­ciate Justice Samuel Alito, while Valle is the second Hillsdale graduate to clerk for Asso­ciate Justice Clarence Thomas. West said Alito is known to be “a fan­tastic boss, a very kind man, and a bril­liant jurist.” 

West explained the role of a law clerk for the Supreme Court. 

“Our job is to help the justice with whatever he needs to resolve the cases and write opinions,” West said. “A lot of that work is reviewing the briefs and making rec­om­men­da­tions, and some­times helping draft opinions that are going to be pub­lished. Then, just dealing with any minor matters that come in that he wants assis­tance with.” 

West, who was a phi­losophy major at Hillsdale, grad­uated from Yale Law School in 2018. He clerked for two judges on the federal court of appeals who encouraged him to apply to clerk for the Supreme Court. 

Phil Wegmann ’15, who is the White House cor­re­spondent for Real­Clear­Pol­itics, was a res­ident assistant with West during their sophomore and junior years at the college. 

“In college, I always felt like an older brother to Garrett, explaining the dif­fer­ences between ana­lytical and con­ti­nental phi­losophy, proof­reading his papers, and answering ques­tions about Aquinas. I knew he could have a bright future,” Wegmann said. “He just needed a little help. Shame he threw it all away by going to Yale. That was six years ago. I just hope he can turn things around with this new internship. Of course, I’m kidding. The Supreme Court is lucky to have Garrett –  – a sen­tence that only sounds over the top until you’ve met him. West is the finest Hillsdale has to offer. He is the best man I know.” 

Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy Lee Cole taught West in six classes and was his thesis adviser. 

“Beyond being really intel­ligent, Garrett was a natural leader, so it was dif­ficult to have a bad seminar meeting if he was at the other end of the room, con­tributing to the con­ver­sation,” he said. “Evi­dently, Garrett has suc­ceeded in some pretty excep­tional ways after grad­u­ating, but none of this is a sur­prise if you knew him or taught him while he was there.

Cole men­tioned West’s engagement to fellow Hillsdale alumna, Kacey Reeves. 

“Not to be overly sen­ti­mental, but it’s nice to see your stu­dents grow up and be happy, and Kacey and Garrett seem des­tined to make a good life for each other,” Cole said.

Gaiser double majored in political economy and speech studies, now called rhetoric and public address. He was a member of the Dow Jour­nalism Program and served as opinions editor for The Col­legian from 2011 – 2012. 

“He helped show me how good Hillsdale stu­dents can be: smart, inquis­itive, well-read, hard­working, and kind,” said John J. Miller, director of the Dow Jour­nalism Program. “I tried to per­suade him to go into jour­nalism because he would have been good at it, but there was no talking him out of law school and it turns out he’s great at the law.”

Gary Wolfram, director of eco­nomics and pro­fessor of political economy, said he taught Gaiser in three classes. 

“Given his enthu­siasm and work ethic, I was not sur­prised that he went on to the Uni­versity of Chicago Law School, where he won a Bradley Fel­lowship, among other awards,” Wolfram said. “I can’t think of a better Supreme Court clerk than Elliott. He will be a guiding light toward main­taining the Con­sti­tution. I hope one day we will be com­menting on his appointment to the court.”

Valle, an English and Latin double major, grad­uated from the Uni­versity of Chicago Law School in 2019.

“Manuel is probably the sweetest, gen­tlest, most humble student I’ve had,” Chair and Pro­fessor of English Justin Jackson said. “He seemed aware of his keen intellect, but he always kept himself in check.”

Manuel is married to Hillsdale alumna Cara Valle ’11. Their fourth child was born in Feb­ruary 2020. 

“And he married Cara,” Jackson said, “which is no doubt the smartest move he ever made. I’m sure she’s a tremendous support to him — familial, intel­lectual, and spir­itual — in all of his work and is the ground of all his success.”

Valle, West, and Gaiser will each be one of four clerks working for their justice during the fall term, which begins on Oct. 4.

Gaiser and West agreed that their Hillsdale edu­cation pre­pared them to clerk. 

“Being a law clerk involves a lot of writing, a lot of thinking, and devel­oping on both sides of any given case for the most effective per­suasive strongest argu­ments,” Gaiser said. 

West said Hillsdale’s Great Books program pre­pared him for legal writing. 

“The aca­demic nature of a Hillsdale edu­cation is that you are closely attending to dif­ficult texts and making argu­ments that use the text as evi­dence,” West said. “And that is quite similar to what a lot of the practice of legal analysis requires.”

Miller said he looks forward to fol­lowing the alumni’s careers.

“Nobody knows what the future holds for them,” Miller said, “but I like the ring of Justice Gaiser and Justice West.”