AG Garland's daughter won't clerk at SCOTUS while dad's in office

Merrick Garland delivers an opening statement as he testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be U.S. Attorney General, as his daughter Jessica listens on Capitol Hill, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Pool
  • Kagan hired Jessica Garland, a Yale law alum, in July 2020
  • Judicial ethics scholars said clerkship would pose recusal questions while Garland serving as AG

(Reuters) - A daughter of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is set to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan starting in 2022, unless her father is still serving as the head of the U.S. Justice Department, the Supreme Court said in a statement late Tuesday.

"Justice Kagan hired Jessica Garland as a law clerk in early July 2020, before President (Joe) Biden's election and Attorney General Garland's appointment, to serve as a law clerk in 2022-2023," the Supreme Court said. "In light of the potential for actual or apparent conflicts of interest, Jessica Garland will not serve as a law clerk for Justice Kagan while Attorney General Garland remains in office."

It's not uncommon for judges and justices to hire law clerks a year or more in advance of a planned start date. The Supreme Court declined to comment beyond its statement.

A message to the Justice Department seeking comment was not returned, and Jessica Garland could not be reached for comment.

News of Jessica Garland's clerkship was first reported by legal industry writer David Lat.

Jessica Garland, a 2019 graduate of Yale Law School, has clerked for Circuit Judge David Barron on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan. Neither judge returned messages seeking comment.

Court clerks, like other judiciary staff, are bound to follow a conduct code that spells out recusal obligations. Those restrictions can flow from circumstances where a clerk or staff attorney has a personal relationship to a party.

Two law professors who study judicial ethics told Reuters on Tuesday that Jessica Garland's clerkship would pose recusal issues for Justice Department-related cases while her father is attorney general.

Merrick Garland, an alum of Harvard Law School, was confirmed as Biden's attorney general in March. Garland had served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit since 1997. He was long considered a top "feeder" of law clerks to the Supreme Court.

U.S. Senate Republicans blocked his 2016 nomination to the Supreme Court, refusing to hold a confirmation hearing and vote.

When her clerkship begins, Jessica Garland will join the ranks of Supreme Court law clerks whose mother or father, or both, clerked at the high court. Merrick Garland clerked in 1978 for the late Justice William Brennan Jr.

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