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IL-SEN Tue Sep 08 2009

Hoffman's Clerkships

Former City of Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman is running for the US Senate as a Democrat; it should then come as no surprise then that on his campaign website's bio page, his campaign left out some details from his resume that were present on his IG office bio: his clerkship for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a conservative icon, and the lesser-known conservative 2nd Federal District Judge Dennis Jacobs.

This appears on his campaign bio page:

Earlier in his career, Hoffman served as a law clerk for the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and for a United States Court of Appeals Judge. He also served as Press Secretary and legislative assistant for foreign policy to U.S. Senator David Boren (D-OK), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

His IG bio page, removed since his resignation (scroll to bottom for a screen grab), read as follows:

Prior to joining the U.S. Attorney's office, Hoffman served as a law clerk for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist on the United States Supreme Court during October Term 1997. The prior year he served as a law clerk for Judge Dennis G. Jacobs, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York City.

If you're wondering what opinions were handed down in the October Term 1997, the most well-known cases were probably Vacco v. Quill, a right-to-die case, and Printz v. United States, a case that weakened the enforcement of the Brady Bill. Another case, Bragdon v. Abbott, found that sufferers of asymptomatic HIV qualified under Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA); Rehnquist dissented in this latter.

When I asked Hoffman about the extent of his involvement in these cases--particularly Printz, he was confused for a moment. "I wasn't involved with that case...I actually clerked in 96-97." The error was in his original IG Bio. The October Term 1996 had fewer controversial cases; the most noted for the lay public is probably United States v. Virginia, which struck down VMI's males-only admission policy. Rehnquist concurred with the majority. Indeed, Hoffman did clerk in the 96 term; the experience led him to describe Rehnquist as "the smartest guy I know."

"In any case, clerks don't have as much input into cases as they'd like to think. And for Chief Justice Rehnquist, he had three clerks...we each got only 1/3rd of the cases. We prepared memos...and we disagreed on a great number of things, obviously."

Clerking for Rehnquist was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that no twenty nine year old attorney could be faulted for taking. Judge Jacobs provides a slightly different case--his opinions have been undeniably conservative, and clerking for him less of a no-brainer. In 2006 the New York Sun described him as "Widely recognized as one of the more conservative jurists on the 2nd Circuit."

While in the legal profession, particularly the higher courts, birds of an ideological feather tend to flock together, conversations with attorneys revealed that this probably doesn't amount to much; one member of the American Constitution Society who requested anonymity, said,

In Supreme Court clerkships you take whatever you can get. Most judges in the federal courts take people with high grades and law review seats, and could care less about politics.

Hoffman confirmed that his pursuit of clerkships was apolitical. "I didn't write the bio on the campaign site, and clerking for Chief Justice Rehnquist and Judge Jacobs, that's not something I've ever tried to hide. It's something I talk about to law students--something I cite. Law students are advised, when it comes to high level clerkships--cast a wide net. And a significant number of clerks don't share the judge's ideology." For reference, Judge Richard Posner, probably the most esteemed conservative jurist in America, clerked for Justice William Brennan, among the most progressive judges in the Court's history. "Clerking at the Supreme Court, it's an honor, and an opportunity so few people get. It was an honor every day I walked into that building."

Given that Hoffman was head of the Law School Democrats at the University of Chicago, it's unlikely that those clerkships represented a suppressed ideological longing. So what did Hoffman take away from working with conservative legal icons?

"Thinking back, we would have lively debates. It was a great training. I never shied away from expressing my opinion to Judge Jacobs."

*City of Chicago Office of the Inspector General

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Dee / September 10, 2009 5:08 PM

Not surprised at his playing fast and loose with the truth.

DNA / September 10, 2009 8:04 PM

It is ironic that fighting corruption and political cronyism is Hoffman's main platform in his bid for the senate. If he were to win and become Senator, it is hard to imagine how he could do much to affect corruption in Illinois or Chicago, even if he wanted to. What can federal senators realistically hope to do about Illinois and Chicago based corruption? Hoffman would have to wait to be become senior senator before he would even have a say in who gets appointed US Attorney.

Fighting corruption is the job of those who actually have jurisdiction to do it, such as IGs, AG, State's Attorneys, US Attorneys, etc. If Hoffman wanted to effectively fight corruption, he should have sought election or appointment to one of those positions.

Since it has widely been reported that Hoffman planned to run for Attorney General before Lisa Madigan decided not to run for Senator or Governor, we should all view Hoffman's senate bid, at least in part, as a deference to politics as usual. He chose not to challenge the Madigan family, the most powerful intact political family institution left in the state, for the AG position, a position where he actually would have had the power and the mandate to fight corruption.

Instead, Hoffman seeks a high federal office, and we must not believe that fighting corruption in Illinois and Chicago is his goal. Instead, fighting low level corruption as Chicago IG was how he made his name, and he is cashing in on that recent press to run for the Senate. His ambition is what is at stake here. That is why nobody knows his other platforms yet. He doesn't have any.

And does anyone else think that it's funny that he's using the Latin Kings colors (yellow and black) as his campaign colors? I'm sure he's not in the Kings, but of all the colors for a former gang prosecutor to pick...

Ramsin / September 10, 2009 8:07 PM

I don't know. I think Peter Fitzgerald may have had a bigger impact on fighting corruption in Illinois than anyone else.

Dan / October 14, 2009 7:51 PM

Well, Arrianna, he's certainly no Alexi Giannoulias who has personally loaned millions of dollars to mob figures, including one that was involved with Jack Abramoff. In the Democratic Primary, it's Alexi "I played bball with Obama" Giannoulis. Or Cheryl Jackson who was spokesperson for Blago.

So this guy was bright (Alexi also lost $100 million in college savings in Bright Start before the market collapsed) enough to clerk for the freaking Chief Justice of the United States and you people want to knock him for that? Clerks do not write opinions. Heck, whatever influence he had was probably a moderating one on Reinquest.

I'm tired of mobbed up candidates. I'm tired of my tax dollars being wasted. This guy probably isn't Che but he is as bright of a candidate Illinois has had since.....Obama.

Arrianna, I hope you weren't part of the Greek mob with Tom Hanks and Rita giving Giannoulias one red cent.

Steve / December 10, 2009 11:25 AM

I agree with Dan. To knock someone for federal clerkships is ridiculous. No law student in their right mind would turn down clerkships with that kind of prestige. In addition, I think the training would be even better if the judge's/justice's views were a bit different than yours. Rather than always agreeing with everyone in the room, you'd be forced to think more about the opposite views. I think this makes a candidate more attractive.

RB / December 15, 2009 2:01 PM

This post is erroneous. Vacco and Printz were both decided during the year David Hoffman clerked (1996-1997). The VMI case was decided during October Term 1995.

CHRIS / December 20, 2009 7:13 PM

I think a few of the comments have missed the point here. By talking about how he wants to fight corruption (even if the U.S. Senate isn't really the place to accomplish this), David Hoffman is trying to convince skeptical Illinois voters that they can trust him. It certainly won't hurt him, and it's not a bad strategy given a) the corruption to which we've become accustomed and b) the fact that Alexi Giannoulias comes off as sorta slick, for better or for worse. Heck, Hoffman is supposed to teach a course on "Public Corruption and the Law" at the University of Chicago next year... I wish all our politicians were qualified to do that.

And yeah, clerking for Rehnquist is damned impressive. I admit that it definitely gave me pause, but I think that his being the head of Law School Democrats at the University of Chicago is a clear signal about where his political allegiances stand.

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