Meet the Professor Who Interviewed 9 Supreme Court Justices

Photo by Dennis Brack/ Bloomberg News.

Editor’s Note: This post is written by the global head of Shearman & Sterling’s intellectual property and technology transactions group. It is part of a contributor series that expands on interviews he conducts on his site, Hsu Untiedwhich look at the human side of lawyers. 

By Richard Hsu, Partner and Global Head of Intellectual Property and Technology Transactions, Shearman & Sterling

Today, my guest is Professor Bryan Garner, Founder and President of LawProse and Professor of Law at Southern Methodist University School of Law, who has personally interviewed 9 Supreme Court Justices on writing and oral advocacy: Justices Elena Kagan, John Roberts, John Paul Stevens,  Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito.  As an amateur interviewer myself, it was a privilege to talk with Professor Garner about how he started and completed such an incredible set of interviews.

[Scroll down for full interview]

Here are some highlights from the interview:

How he got the Supreme Court Justices.  Prof. Garner began by having breakfast with Justice Scalia with his daughter and over the course of a 3-hour breakfast, Professor Garner asked Justice Scalia to do an interview by “suggesting” he already had an interview with Chief Justice Roberts.  Once he interviewed Justices Ginsburg and Breyer (whom Professor Garner knew separately), the rest of the Justices agreed to be interviewed fairly easily.  It was not an easy process because he was treated as a journalist and he had to get an ethical opinion from Professors Geoffrey Hazard and Stephen Gillers.  Professor Garner makes the interviews publicly available completely free of charge on his website Law Prose.

How he conducted the Interviews.  The video interviews with the Justices are completely unedited and Prof. Garner acted as his own videographer.  The interviews were mainly done in Judge’s chambers and there is also a written transcript which accompanies each interview.  The interviews ranged in length from 30 to 80 minutes and were conducted over a period of about 18 months.  In Justice Breyer’s interview, you can actually hear the fire crackling in his chambers.

Topics for the Interviews: Professor Garner wanted to cover topics the Justices normally don’t discuss: advocacy and legal writing for judicial opinion and brief writing for legal education and oral argument.  When asked whether he was nervous, he said “of course.”

Response to the Interviews.  The interviews were very well received by the Justices.  They are regularly used in law school classes and are studied by incoming law clerks.  Justice Kagan even mentioned that the law clerks put on annual skits which are based on things said in the interviews.

Co-Author with Justice Scalia.  After interviewing Justice Scalia, Prof. Garner ended up collaborating and  co-authoring 2 books with Justice Scalia: Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges and Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts.  They collaborated for hundreds of hours and right from the beginning, Justice Scalia said to Prof. Garner: “you are not my clerk; you are my co-author and we are equals in this book.”  They continue to work on new editions for both books.

Plans for the Videos.  In addition to the Supreme Court interviews, Professor Garner has interviewed over 180 various circuit, district and state court judges and Professor Garner’s goal is to create a repository of judges’ opinions about oral advocacy and legal writing.  He continues to interview judges on a regular basis.