American judges commonly hire recent law school graduates to work for a year or two as “clerks” who assist the judge with research and opinion writing. From 1988 to 1990, I was fortunate to clerk for two exceptional judges, Patrick E. Higginbotham and John Paul Stevens. Though both had been appointed by Republican presidents, their reputations in 1988 were very different. Higginbotham, whose chambers were in Dallas, Texas, was among the leading conservatives on the United States Circuit Courts of Appeal. He was widely reported to have been on the Reagan administration's short list of potential Supreme Court appointees. Stevens, who had been named to the Court by Gerald R. Ford, was regarded as a moderate, independent-minded liberal. Nowadays, he is often described as the Court's most liberal member.
Despite the real differences between the two judges, what impressed me most was what they had in common. Higginbotham and Stevens shared a deep respect for the craft and institutions of the law. Neither of them thought that law could be reduced to the mechanical application of rules; on the contrary, they acknowledged, in