I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend an event called “Clerks at 100.” It was organized by the National Constitution Center to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the federal statute that created the Supreme Court clerkships.
Clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was one of the highlights of my life, and perhaps because I’m not a practicing lawyer anymore, I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to re-connect with that lawyerly part of my past.
Plus I do love reunions. It was great to see a bunch of old friends and former colleagues, and to meet some new people as well.
And here’s one thing that really struck me about the event.
There was a huge dinner at the National Portrait Gallery, with table after table of former clerks and also some Justices.
Most of these people still practice law, in some way—judges, law school deans, professors, government professionals, and of course, lawyers in private practice or with public-interest organizations.
So these are people spend a lot of time on the law.
Now sometimes, at dinners like these, guests receive some kind of memento item, a keepsake to take home. And I saw that each seat at my table had a small flat box, and for some reason, I just assumed that these boxes held bars of chocolate. The box just had that look, and so often, this kind of little gift is some form of candy.
I don’t eat sugar, so I didn’t want it. I said to the friend sitting next to me, who has young children, “Would you like my gift to take home for your kids?”
She looked surprised and said, “Don’t you want it yourself?”
“Well, what is it?” I asked.
“Look inside,” she said, and I saw that it was a leather-bound, pocked-sized copy of the Constitution. It was beautifully made and very cunning.
“Oh, yes, I do want it!” I said, and I slipped it into my bag.
And while I’d experienced my “America feeling” many times throughout the event, which was devoted to the working of the Supreme Court, I felt my America feeling most strongly on my way out.
Because I really did get choked up when I looked around to notice what was happening. Usually in situations like this, a lot of the gifts are left on the table—people just don’t bother with them. Here, not only was everyone taking the one at their own seat, I saw many people prowling between tables to see if they could spot a box that hadn’t been picked up.
After all these years of study and practice, after all this time, all this experience, all these lawyers wanted that copy of the Constitution. The Constitution isn’t like anything else in the world. I feel that way, and it made me very happy to see that everyone else in the room felt that way, too.