Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. has hired one of the architects of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft's policies to serve as his law clerk at the Supreme Court for the rest of the current term, the court announced yesterday.I do find this troubling, but the fact that Ciongoli is a former clerk of Alito's takes some of the edge off it. It doesn't seem that Alito went looking for someone with an inside knowledge of important cases that he is likely to face. And there is a process in place for law clerks to recuse themselves: "According to a 2002 federal publication, 'Maintaining the Public Trust: Ethics for Federal Judicial Law Clerks,' clerks should not participate in cases that they worked on 'in a previous legal job,' or about which they have personal knowledge of disputed facts."
Adam G. Ciongoli, 37, a senior vice president at Time Warner Inc., served as counselor to Ashcroft from 2001 to 2003. He attended Georgetown University Law Center, clerked for Alito at the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit from 1995 to 1996, and helped prepare the justice for his recent confirmation hearings.
Ciongoli was an aide to Ashcroft during Ashcroft's years as a senator and then came to the Justice Department, where he advised Ashcroft on terrorism issues in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Among the issues he worked on were the detention of thousands of terrorism suspects in the United States and the use of military tribunals to try them.
As a law clerk for Alito, his responsibilities will include helping Alito draft opinions, prepare for oral argument and sift through the mountain of appeals that arrive each week.
Ciongoli's appointment, which will last about five months, is unusual: Though there has been a slight trend at the court toward hiring law clerks with a few years of work experience, the vast majority of clerks are recent law school graduates.
Among those who have come to the court after working elsewhere, none in recent memory had held a government position as senior as Ciongoli's at the Justice Department, where he was widely regarded as one of Ashcroft's closest confidants.
Perhaps it is a good thing for the Justices to hire more experienced persons as their clerks. Here Alito has tapped a person he trusted to help him with his confirmation hearings. Hiring Ciongoli seems so strange because we are used to the strangeness of thoroughly green clerks.