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.”