Thomas Sprankling '12 Awarded U.S. Supreme Court Clerkship

New York, October 21, 2015—Columbia Law School alumnus Thomas Sprankling ’12, an associate in WilmerHale’s Washington, D.C. office, has been hired to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the 2016 term. 

Alumnus Thomas Sprankling '12 will clerk for
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
during the court's 2016 term.
“It’s an honor to have the opportunity to work for the court, to work with incredibly smart people on interesting unresolved legal matters,” said Sprankling. “In private practice, your job is to persuade judges that your perspective is correct. At the Supreme Court, you have to apply the law, thinking in a critical and balanced way.”

Sprankling, a recipient of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Prize and the Charles Bathgate Beck Prize at Columbia Law School, has been thinking critically since high school, when he first envisioned clerking for the highest court in the land. Prior to joining WilmerHale, he clerked for then-Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where he honed his legal writing and reasoning skills.

His education continued at WilmerHale, where former U.S. Solicitor General and leading appellate advocate Seth Waxman and other partners have been mentors and colleagues. Earlier this year, Sprankling worked with Waxman in representing the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) in a gerrymandering-related case against the Arizona State Legislature that was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court’s decision–which came in June—upheld the constitutionality of the AIRC, created by Proposition 106, a ballot initiative adopted by the people of Arizona in 2000. Simply: the AIRC does have the power to redraw congressional district lines, without the Legislature.  

Cases like these, said Sprankling, gave him the chance to consider major, nationally important legal issues. He also benefited from exposure to a variety of perspectives –from colleagues, other lawyers and judges- something he encountered at the Law School too.

“I expect to draw from my Constitutional and Administrative Law classes, and so much taught to me by Professors Gillian Metzger, Daniel Richman, Michael Heller. Trevor Morrison [now dean of the NYU School of Law] and many other Columbia Law professors,” he said.

Sprankling said he read every case and Kennedy opinion from the previous term and absorbed as much other information as he could before sitting down for his interview with the associate justice who, coincidentally, hails from the same part of California: Sacramento.

One thing in particular stood out in his research: Kennedy’s concurring opinion in the 1989 Texas v. Johnson decision overturning a conviction for desecration of the American flag on First Amendment grounds.

“The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like,” Kennedy wrote. “We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision. This is one of those rare cases.”

Sprankling said the concurrence was thought-provoking. “Justice Kennedy voted in the majority because we have to apply the law even when our personal politics differ,” he said.
Columbia Law School consistently places students and alumni in federal and state court clerkships, ranging from the U.S. Supreme Court and federal circuit and district courts to a broad array of state and specialty courts. Four recent Columbia Law School graduates were awarded clerkships for the current term. Z. Payvand Ahdout ’13 is working for fellow Columbia Law School alumna Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59; Jonathan A. Berry ’11 is serving in the chambers of Justice Samuel Alito; Tejas Narechania ’11 is clerking for Justice Stephen G. Breyer; and Samuel P. Rothschild ’13 is working for retired Justice David H. Souter.