“Excuse me, Your Honor,” I said before the judge could respond, modulating my voice. “I meant no disrespect. I was just, well, I was thinking, you have such an amazing….”
“Oh Audrey,” Judge Stinson said, shaking her head and sighing. “There is always somewhere else to go. Always.”
She paused, touching a bejeweled finger to her perfect chin, and looked off into space for a few moments. Then her gaze returned to me.
“So you’re interested in clerking for the Court,” she said. “Of the current justices, who are your favorites, and why?”
“I’d say I have two,” I said. “I admire Justice Keegan for his focus on the text and for articulating the theory of originalism so cogently. And I admire Justice Wilson for his close attention to history, and for his open-mindedness — his willingness to consider doctrinal questions that many other judges view as settled. I would apply to all nine justices of the Court, which I understand is protocol, but I would most love to clerk for either Justice Keegan or Justice Wilson.”
“I am lucky enough to call both of them my friends,” said the judge, gesturing towards a wall where I could make out photographs of her with both justices. “And several of my clerks have gone on to clerk for them. I’m glad to see you have such good taste in justices. I never know what to expect from you Yalies!”
“Please, Judge, don’t lump me in with everyone else! We’re not all wild-eyed judicial activists over in New Haven.”
“Oh, Audrey, I’m just kidding! I went to Boalt Hall for law school, and I can assure you that Berkeley is not a hotbed of judicial restraint. Nor is the Ninth Circuit. I sometimes feel like the lone voice crying out in the wilderness when I argue in favor of deciding cases based on, you know, the law….”
“Well, Judge Stinson, I would love to do whatever I can to help you fight the good fight here at the Ninth Circuit.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I wondered if they were too forward. My goal was to underscore to the judge my keen interest in clerking for her. But I didn’t want to be pushy, especially in light of my earlier outburst.
“One last question,” said the judge. “I have received over one thousand clerkship applications for this cycle, from the very best students at the nation’s leading law schools. Tell me: With over one thousand applicants, why should I hire you?”
The question’s aggressiveness floored me. And flustered me. Once again, I paused and took a breath.
“Your Honor,” I said, “I’m you.”
What had I just uttered? Where had that come from? Why was I intent on sabotaging an interview that had been going so well?
“Excuse me?” Judge Stinson’s impeccably groomed eyebrows were raised so high that I no longer suspected Botox.
“Judge Stinson, I’m you. I’m smart, and I’m ambitious, and I’m relentless. I came up from a humble background and made something of myself. Some people underestimate me — they expect me, as an Asian-American woman, to be some sort of wallflower — but then I prove them wrong. Big time.”
I was too nervous to try and gauge the judge’s reaction. I plowed ahead; I had no choice.
“I work hard, extremely hard, until I get the job done. I learned all about hard work from my mother, a nurse, who has worked long hours for years. I’ve inherited the immigrant work ethic from my parents — my mother, an immigrant from the Philippines, and my father, the descendant of Irish immigrants. I don’t take anything for granted. And if selected for the high honor of clerking for you, I will not disappoint. You have my word.”
Judge Stinson stared at me. I let the silence linger; normally I hate conversational breaks, but I felt I had said my piece.
I realized at that moment where the “I’m you” had come from. A few years ago, a Senate candidate in Delaware responded to accusations that she dabbled in witchcraft by running television ads that started out with her saying, “I’m not a witch. I’m you.” After watching this video endlessly on YouTube (because I found it hilarious), the phrase “I’m you” seeped into my subconscious — from where it burst forth, during a moment of great stress.
“Audrey,” said Judge Stinson, after a silence that seemed to last forever, “I don’t normally do this….”
What was she about to do? Throw me out of chambers? The Yale clerkships adviser would be thrilled to learn how I mouthed off to a Ninth Circuit judge, who would probably refuse to hire Yalies for the next five years in retaliation for my rudeness. (Judges sometimes did that sort of thing — like how Justice Keegan refused to hire University of Chicago grads for several years after the former dean made comments that Keegan viewed as anti-Catholic.)
“I prefer to wait until I’ve finished all my interviews before making offers,” said Judge Stinson. “But I feel a very strong connection with you. I would be honored to have you as my clerk.”
I felt nauseous. I felt elated. This was actually happening.
“Judge Stinson,” I said, trying to imbue my voice with maximum gravitas, “I would be honored to clerk for you.”
We shook hands again. Her handshake was firm, but her hand was impossibly soft. Pearl cream?
“Excellent,” said Judge Stinson. “I look forward to our working together.”