WASHINGTON – Helping promote Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court has paid off for three conservative lawyers, including a one-time confidant of former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The three have prize assignments as Alito's law clerks and the opportunity to help shape his early days on the court. They also have resumes that could add some firepower to the junior justice's chambers.
Alito, 55, has surrounded himself with solid conservatives and loyalists — all three clerked for him when he was an appeals court judge, dating back a decade.
The third, former Justice Department lawyer Adam Ciongoli, participated in so-called "murder boards," mock sessions that got Alito ready for his Senate confirmation hearings.
Earlier, Jorgensen was among the conservatives who raised questions about the credentials of Bush's early court nominee, Harriet Miers. When Miers withdrew in the face of conservative criticism, Bush turned to Alito. Jorgensen also prepared a paper for the Federalist Society on the nomination of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal member of the court.
"I think what's notable is that he's picked individuals who are so defined on the right ideologically. That tells us who Samuel Alito is," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a liberal Duke University law professor.
Artemus Ward, a co-author of a new book on Supreme Court law clerks, "Sorcerers' Apprentices," said Alito may have been trying to make strategic choices, hiring older experienced lawyers he knows well.
"They know the politics of the Supreme Court, how to form coalitions. They may be more effective," he said. "This is the middle of the term. If you bring in fresh new clerks, you really are in trouble."
Alito will be welcomed to the court with a traditional ceremony on Thursday. He is settling into his new job, with the help of borrowed secretaries and an aide, in chambers that had been used by both Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in their early years on the court.
He also is keeping on his staff two law clerks who had worked for Sandra Day O'Connor, the moderate justice he replaced.
Alito is likely "not quite sure who those clerks are and whether they can be trusted," said Ward. "New justices tend to rely much more heavily on their clerks."
Alito's Senate confirmation, on a 58-42 vote, followed what was billed as an 18-state public relations barnstorm. According to the organizer, Progress for America, Smith promoted Alito in Nebraska and South Dakota, while Jorgensen made stops in Louisiana and Ohio, holding news conferences and giving interviews. Ciongoli, too, was involved in media interviews.
Smith is a former clerk for Thomas, one of the court's most conservative members. Jorgensen clerked for the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Ciongoli has never clerked at the Supreme Court but worked on Capitol Hill and for Ashcroft.
"It's not the usual thing, but it doesn't strike me as being troubling," said Richard Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame who clerked for Rehnquist. "It would be a mistake to read it as payback."
All three will be older than most of the clerks at the court. Justices generally hire new law school graduates to do the work, which involves reviewing the more than 8,000 appeals that are filed each year and helping write opinions. Ciongoli is the oldest: 37.
Ciongoli also faces immediate ethical questions. He worked as a senior adviser to Ashcroft from 2001 to 2003 and helped with the Justice Department's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Supreme Court is dealing with appeals that stem from policies dating back to the Ashcroft.
He could withdraw from any dealings on those cases, although all the work of law clerks is done in private and it's not clear how a recusal would be handled.
Smith, a Washington lawyer, will work for Alito from February-May, and Jorgensen, a partner in a Washington law firm, will join Alito for May-July. Ciongoli is leaving a job at Time Warner Inc. in New York.