The Volokh Conspiracy

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About The Former Alito Clerk Who Attacked Him In The Philadelphia Inquirer

Professor Susan Sullivan doesn't even list Alito's name on her biography, and clerked for Judge Alito when Casey was argued.


Susan Sullivan wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, titled "I was a law clerk for Justice Alito. He must recuse himself from hearing cases involving Donald Trump." The subheadline is, "Flying the U.S. flag upside down, once a signal of distress, has become a symbol of those who reject the results of the 2020 presidential election. When Alito did so, it was indeed a distress call."

The op-ed introduces nothing new or original. She cites the New York Times reporting as gospel, and spends paragraphs talking about Dobbs, which has nothing to do with the flag. Let's be clear. The only reason why Sullivan placed this op-ed is that she is a former law clerk for Justice Alito. The only thing the press loves more than a conservative who criticizes conservatives is someone who worked for a conservative who criticizes her former conservative boss. Look no further than the endless stream of former people in Trump world who attack Trump.

Who is Susan Sullivan? I had never heard of her. She is an Assistant Professor in the Temple University College of Liberal Arts. She teaches classes in criminal procedure, constitutional law, and the Supreme Court. Her biography includes these lines:

Professor Sullivan graduated from Rutgers Law School, Order of the Coif in 1990. Following law school, she clerked for a federal Judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (now a US Supreme Court Justice), and then practiced law as a litigator for in excess of ten years in New York and in San Francisco.

She can't even bring herself to say the name Samuel Alito in her biography. Say his name! She is willing to take the credit for the clerkship, but then throws her boss under the bus.

She describes herself this way in the Inquirer:

As a former law clerk to Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., I often admired him as a person for his integrity and honesty. As a progressive liberal, however, I vehemently disagreed with the approach he takes to reading the Constitution, the narrow interpretation he adopts, and his reverence for the framers 'restrictive intent.'

Is it normal to say you "often" admire a judge you clerked for? When did you not?

Professor Sullivan has a special connection to Justice Alito and abortion. She graduated Rutgers in 1990, and began her Third Circuit clerkship in the fall of 1990, and finished in the summer of 1991. Planned Parenthood v. Casey was argued before the Third Circuit in February 1991, which was smack dab in the middle of Sullivan's clerkship. As all know, then-Judge Alito would have upheld the spousal notification privilege that the Casey plurality deemed unconstitutional.

In 2006, when Alito was nominated, Sullivan offered some faint praise for Alito:

Susan Sullivan of San Francisco clerked for Alito during the year he wrote his controversial Casey opinion, upholding portions of a Pennsylvania statute restricting abortion, a decision later overturned by the Supreme Court. Sullivan, who describes herself as "a social progressive who is pro-choice and anti-death penalty," says, "In general I would react with suspicion to any nominee of this administration. But having worked with him, I know he does not work toward a specific result. He is not intent on advancing his own agenda. He approaches cases in a very impartial way."

Indeed, Sullivan met her husband, Jim Goneia while they were both clerking for Judge Alito.

Jim Goneia and Susan Sullivan met while clerking for Judge Alito in 1990-91. They are now married, with two children. Their 9-year-old son says, "I like Judge Alito. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't exist."

Both Jim and Susan describe themselves as "social progressives" and they are both "pro-choice." But they adamantly support Judge Alito. And it's not just because of their son's existence, as good a reason as that might be. . . .

They both served with Alito during the Casey decision. And Susan replied that she would feel the same way if Roe is overturned that she did when she read Alito's dissent in Casey: she didn't agree, but she respected the process he went through to arrive at his decision.

She added that while on the 3rd Circuit, Judge Alito has both affirmed and applied Roe. . . so she doesn't believe anyone knows how he will rule in a specific case. And the fact that he has written opinions that are popular with some, and decisions that are popular with others shows his impartiality.

But things have changed. The clerk reunion will be a bit awkward.

There is a reason why conservative judges, in particular, have to screen out law clerks–progressive students will take the job, and the prestige, then proceed to attack their former boss to media plaudits.