By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. has hired one of the architects of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft's policies to serve as his law clerk at the Supreme Court for the rest of the current term, the court announced yesterday.
Adam G. Ciongoli, 37, a senior vice president at Time Warner Inc., served as counselor to Ashcroft from 2001 to 2003. He attended Georgetown University Law Center, clerked for Alito at the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit from 1995 to 1996, and helped prepare the justice for his recent confirmation hearings.
Ciongoli was an aide to Ashcroft during Ashcroft's years as a senator and then came to the Justice Department, where he advised Ashcroft on terrorism issues in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Among the issues he worked on were the detention of thousands of terrorism suspects in the United States and the use of military tribunals to try them.
As a law clerk for Alito, his responsibilities will include helping Alito draft opinions, prepare for oral argument and sift through the mountain of appeals that arrive each week.
Ciongoli's appointment, which will last about five months, is unusual: Though there has been a slight trend at the court toward hiring law clerks with a few years of work experience, the vast majority of clerks are recent law school graduates.
Among those who have come to the court after working elsewhere, none in recent memory had held a government position as senior as Ciongoli's at the Justice Department, where he was widely regarded as one of Ashcroft's closest confidants.
Perhaps the closest parallel to Ciongoli's appointment was the 2002 appointment of Rachel Brand, then associate White House counsel, to serve as a law clerk to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Brand is now assistant attorney general for legal policy.
This raises the possibility that Ciongoli will face issues at the court that he had worked on in government.
For example, the arrest of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla and his subsequent detention as an "enemy combatant" took place while Ciongoli was on Ashcroft's staff. The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to hear Padilla's appeal.
"There is a process in place to evaluate whether a law clerk should be recused," Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said yesterday. Ciongoli did not return a phone call to his New York office.
According to a 2002 federal publication, "Maintaining the Public Trust: Ethics for Federal Judicial Law Clerks," clerks should not participate in cases that they worked on "in a previous legal job," or about which they have personal knowledge of disputed facts.
Ciongoli was one of five lawyers named as law clerks to Alito. Benjamin Horwich and Alexander Volokh will switch to Alito from the chambers of retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Hannah Smith and Jay Jorgensen will join Alito after having worked for Justice Clarence Thomas and then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, respectively.