Love them or hate them, more than half of all American presidents started with careers in law but ended up leading a country. What you may not know is that many 2016 presidential hopefuls have close ties to judges—whether it’s a spouse, sister, parent, or a judge they have clerked for.
Since several U.S. Supreme Court nominations are likely to be in the hands of the next Commander and Chief, here is a look at the judges who have helped shape the 2016 presidential contenders.
Featured image: “Law, Justice, Gavel.” from Shutterstock.
Trump’s Sister, the Judicial Diva
2016 Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s eldest sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, is an extremely successful and well-respected Senior United States Circuit Judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. “She’s a big federal judge at a very high level, and she’s considered brilliant by everybody,” according to her little brother, Donald Trump.
The Donald’s description of Judge Barry makes it clear he holds her in high regard. He has reason to do so.
Although she did not start law school until after her son was in sixth grade, Judge Barry’s four-decade career as a prosecutor and a federal judge has proven Judge Barry to be a superstar in her own right.
During her more than three decades on the bench, Judge Barry has built a reputation that has earned her numerous accolades. As might be expected given her blood relation to The Donald, Judge Barry’s coiffure isn’t the only thing flamboyant about her.
In fact, she’s known by many as quite a “judicial diva.” The Jaguar-driving, chain-smoking, Scotch-drinking former prosecutrix is well known for her commanding presence and insightful grasp of complex legal issues as well as her decisive style and occasional benchslappery.
Describing herself as a full-time mom who was among “that generation of superwomen who went back to school,” Judge Barry took nine years to focus on raising her children after earning a master’s degree in public law and government from Columbia University before returning to law school.
Judge Barry openly talks about her legal journey, speaking frankly on how far she has come in her legal career.
I didn’t know what an appellate brief was!” At her first oral argument, during the defense counsel’s eloquent presentation, she panicked and wrote a note to her supervisor sitting next to her: “What do I say?” He advised her to get up, introduce herself, and argue that the evidence was overwhelming. When she did that, Judge John Gibbons responded by saying, “Frankly, counselor, I am underwhelmed.
Since then, Judge Barry has come a long way—from a fledgling assistant U.S. Attorney who did not even know what an appellate brief was to one of the more renowned federal appellate judges. Judge Barry was appointed to federal district court by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, and to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1999.
Her Honor also makes sure justice is serviced with a generous side of snark.
Ted Cruz held two judicial clerkships following law school: one with Michael Luttig at the Fourth Circuit and another with Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
In his book, A Time for Truth, Cruz wrote that he thought clerking would be “one of the coolest jobs in the world.”
In high school, I decided that being a law clerk at the Supreme Court, working alongside nine of the most revered judges in the land, would be one of the coolest jobs in the world.
Tennis, Cantaloupe, and a Dash of Porn
Presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz spent years working to secure a Supreme Court clerkship. It paid off, with him becoming the first Hispanic to clerk for a Chief Justice of the United States.
Cruz carefully documented his time spent clerking for Justice Rehnquist, recounting everything from tennis matches to watching Internet porn alongside Supreme Court justices.
In a small room gathered the chief, O’Connor, and their respective law clerks. The librarians’ purpose was to demonstrate to the justices how easy it was to find porn on the Internet.
I remember standing behind the computer, watching the librarian go to a search engine, turn off the filters, and type in the word cantaloupe, though misspelling it slightly. After she pressed “return,” a slew of hard-core, explicit images showed up on screen.
Here I was, a 26-year-old man looking at explicit porn with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was standing alongside the colleague (my boss) she had once dated in law school. As we watched these graphic pictures fill our screens, wide-eyed, no one said a word. Except for Justice O’Connor, who lowered her head, squinted slightly, and muttered,
Article III Aristocracy
Carly Fiorina was born into Article III aristocracy, daughter of the late prominent conservative Ninth Circuit Judge Joseph Tyree Sneed III. Serving more than three decades, the late Judge Sneed sat on the Ninth Circuit until his death.
The son of a cotton farmer and cattle rancher, Judge Sneed graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1947 and spent much of the next quarter-century as a law professor at his alma mater, along with Stanford, Cornell and brief stints at the London School of Economics and the University of Ghana.
He became dean of Duke Law School in 1971 and served until 1973, when President Richard Nixon, a Duke Law School graduate, appointed him deputy attorney general of the Department of Justice.
As a part of the three-judge panel asked to pick a new independent counsel to investigate the Whitewater case, Judge Sneed recommended Ken Starr, one of his former students, to expand the scope of the investigation, which eventually led to President Clinton’s impeachment.
Judge Sneed’s straightforward style and clear language are characteristic in many of his opinions. Many of these influenced the U.S. Supreme Court, such as his opinion concerning California’s “three strikes” law for repeat offenders.
The sentence imposed in this case is not one of the “exceedingly rare” terms of imprisonment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment’s proscription against cruel and unusual punishment … Two consecutive sentences of 25 years to life—with parole eligibility only after the minimum 50 years—is obviously severe. Nevertheless, it is the sentence mandated by the citizens of California through the democratic initiative process and, additionally, legislated by their elected representatives.
Even Judge Sneed’s dissents were occasionally vindicated by the highest court in the land, including one landmark case determining whether tenants can be evicted from public housing due to another member of the household or guest’s previously unknown drug use. Judge Sneed’s answer, which was later adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court was unwavering: Yes.
The question here presented is whether this language permits local [public housing authorities] to evict tenants who were ignorant of their household members’ or guests’ drug use (“ignorant tenants”). The answer to this question should be that it does permit such evictions.
Judge Sneed also left his mark with at least two landmark tax law opinions featured in most income tax casebooks.
In the 1976 case, Olk v. United States, Judge Sneed single-handedly clarified the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Duberstein, holding that tips to craps dealers in casinos should be treated as taxable income rather than nontaxable gifts. The case hammered home the rule that in order to be considered a gift, the object must be given with no expectation of getting something in return or in response to receiving something of value.
Judge Sneed ruled on the landmark tax case Estate of Franklin v. Commissioner the same year. Judge Sneed’s opinion spelled out out that the purchaser of property cannot include the full amount of debt in basic because the taxpayer has no investment in the property and no economic incentive to pay the debt. Estate of Franklin held its place as the leading anti-shelter case for years, but was later followed by a cascade of cases trying to come to grips with reality when non-recourse loans are sometimes not “real” debt.
First Lady, Judge, Supermom
A career politician since before he even graduated college, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley married Baltimore City District Court Judge Catherine “Katie” Curran O’Malley during law school. While still in law school, Judge O’Malley gave birth to the couple’s first child. That same year, she took the bar exam and her husband won a seat on the City Council.
While Martin O’Malley went on to become a U.S. Senate staffer, then Assistant State’s Attorney for the City of Baltimore until again running for public office, Judge O’Malley began her career as Assistant State Attorney in Baltimore County. That is, until her appointment as an Associate Judge for the First District Court of Maryland in 2001.
Holding Onto the Bench
During Martin O’Malley’s time as Mayor of Baltimore, Judge O’Malley wrote the state’s judicial ethics board for guidance on how to proceed in “civil lawsuits in which the mayor and city council are named; cases involving city solicitors; cases brought by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.; and even cases involving police officers, because they answer to the commissioner, who was appointed by Mayor Martin O’Malley”—cases which all come down to her husband and father.
Staying on the bench again became an issue after Judge O’Malley’s husband was sworn in as governor. Judge O’Malley again stuck to her plans. Those plans, however, were not without hurdles.
Judge O’Malley’s desire to keep her job was further complicated by a residency requirement and other family considerations regarding an anticipated move to Annapolis. A lawyer for the governor-elect wrote to Ben C. Clyburn, the chief judge for the District Court of Maryland, that a temporary move to Annapolis would not preclude Katie O’Malley from maintaining her domicile in Baltimore, provided she intends to return there at the end of her husband’s term.
Judge O’Malley’s is by no means the first to make the decision to stay on the bench as First Lady, but being the wife of a career politician has posed many challenges to her judgeship over the years. She has tackled each challenge with her characteristic poise and prowess.
We may not know who the next Supreme Court nominee will be—or the next president for that matter—but you can rest assured that these judges reign supreme in their courtrooms.