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The Supreme Court Law Clerk and Democratic Government

Sean Patrick Beienburg ('08), Susan McWilliams, Justin Crowe

Since William Rehnquist’s 1957 article warned of insidious clerk influence on the Supreme Court, researchers, journalists, politicians, and court watchers have analyzed the power of the clerk, finding it to be significant but generally exaggerated. My research incorporates that prior work, the memoirs of former clerks, newspaper archives, and other sources to consider the theoretical implications of clerk influence. A corps of unelected, unconfirmed lawyers performing much of the justices’ work does suggest that the Court is further developing as an institution detached from ordinary democratic workings. Concern about the proper role of the clerk is readily apparent from the writings of clerks, newly confirmed justices, and journalists. However, clerks also act in ways that bring the Court under more direct control and greater accord with the citizens. Clerks appear to have exacerbated partisanship on the Court, which pushes the judiciary into the electoral sphere. Since life-tenured Justices often last into new regimes (in the Skowronek model), the younger clerks often serve as envoys of the newly elected regime. While the secrecy surrounding clerks allows only the most tentative of conclusions, it appears that clerks do not significantly alter the Supreme Court’s unique role in representative government.
Funding provided by: SURP

The Role of the Black Church in the Social and Political Development of Los Angeles, 1910-1950

Rebecca McLean Dale ('09), David Brown (‘08), Lorn Foster

This research project seeks to discern the role of the black church in the social and political development of Los Angeles between 1910 and 1950. We have focused on three major primary sources: newspapers, personal interviews, and church archives. The California Eagle, a race paper that anchored black Los Angeles in the first half of the 20th century, provides a record of important church events and highlights the significance of the church in the broader community. Church archives contain detailed ledgers of church membership and activities while also offering a wealth of information on a number of activist pastors. Conducting video interviews with early church members supplements and often clarifies the data collected from other sources. In addition to serving our project, these interviews will comprise a media record of black church life in early Los Angeles. Still in the early stages, this project will culminate in a book by Professor Lorn Foster. The book will contribute to the ongoing scholarship focusing on black Los Angeles and fill a void in research regarding the significance of the church.
Funding provided by: SURP (Haynes, NEH)

Research at Pomona