Kenton Skarin ’04 has reached the upper echelon of the legal profession. He was appointed to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court law clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas for the 2012-2013 session and began his assignment in July after moving his family from Wheaton, IL, to Alexandria, VA, for the year.
“I really consider this as the opportunity of a lifetime—I’m one of the luckiest guys alive and North Central was the beginning point,” he says.
Supreme Court law clerks have been described as “elite young barristers” and “brilliant young legal minds,” meaning that the justices seek out the nation’s top legal talent to assist them. Each of the nine justices has four law clerks, many of whom are top alumni of the nation’s best law schools; Skarin graduated from Northwestern University Law School in 2009 at the top of his class.
Along with Justice Thomas’ three other law clerks, Skarin will have three main duties. First, he will help review his share of the approximately 10,000 petitions for writ of certiorari—“cert petitions” for short—that are submitted annually for review. The Supreme Court typically grants certiorari in only some 80 petitions annually. “Most cases are not appropriate to go into the process,” he says. “The Supreme Court tends to only take cases where multiple lower courts have considered a legal issue thoroughly without reaching a uniform resolution.”
Once the Court agrees to take a case, the clerks help prepare their justices by reading briefs and preparing oral arguments. Finally, they help their justices write his or her legal opinions, concurrences and dissents.
Skarin’s path to his appointment began with a history major at North Central and he took many of his favorite classes from Barbara Sciacchitano, professor of history emerita. “The law involves a lot of research and writing and is really a form of applied history,” he explains. “Professor Sciacchitano was instrumental in accelerating my development in those areas.”
After working as a bond trader in Chicago and attending Northwestern, he was offered a clerkship in Charlottesville, VA, with the Hon. J. Harvie Wilkinson III on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, whose clerks frequently go on to fill Supreme Court clerkships. After that clerkship, Skarin worked in Chicago for the law firm Mayer Brown LLP while awaiting his Supreme Court clerkship. He said he was looking forward to the congenial atmosphere among the clerks—and having a Capitol Hill parking spot.
“I hope to return to Mayer Brown next year. I really like the culture there and it’s a good fit for me,” Skarin adds.
He feels that his education has been responsible for much of his success. “I’ve been blessed by both North Central and Northwestern, the people I’ve met and the opportunities I’ve had,” he says. “North Central really enabled me to get where I am today . . . I’d go again in a heartbeat.”