There is nothing wrong with burning out. But there is something pretty sad about a burnout spending his days on character assassinations of high achievers. Consider Elie Mystal, an editor at the online legal tabloid Above The Law, foaming at the mouth over one young woman having the temerity to be hired as a law clerk by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Athie Livas is a 2019 graduate of Yale Law School who will clerk for Justice Kavanaugh in 2021. Livas is the daughter of immigrants and a product of rural Kentucky public schools. She earned a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins and admission to Yale Law School, the most selective law school in the country. She has been hired by two lower-court judges who are considered “feeders” for Supreme Court clerkships.
And then Justice Kavanaugh hired Livas, too. To Mystal, this proved that Livas is a “vapid Kavanaugh stan” (a youth-culture portmanteau of “stalker” and “fan”: an obsessive admirer). It made Livas complicit, Mystal implies, in “a terrible reminder of what this country will let privileged white boys do to women,” and in “a stain upon Yale Law School” and “a stain upon the United States Senate.” And, in the words of an anonymous tip that Mystal quotes approvingly, the hire was “unseemly,” “blatantly un-meritocratic,” and apparently a “quid pro quo exchange for [Livas’s] public displays of support” for Justice Kavanaugh during his confirmation fight.
Livas did sign an open letter “from Yale students, alumni, and faculty” in support of Kavanaugh. The letter was published several days after he was nominated, before the “rape trial” portion of the confirmation fight, but not before the liberal outrage machine spun up. The letter was signed by 244 people, including notable Yale professors and fixtures of the D.C. legal community. Only one—Livas—has been hired to clerk for Justice Kavanaugh.
This might be hard for Mystal to understand—but merit doesn’t mean “accomplishment by a person I agree with.” By any objective standard, Livas is outstandingly meritorious. She graduated from Yale with near-perfect grades and was also the president of the Yale Federalist Society during an extremely difficult year. The surprising thing is not that Justice Kavanaugh hired her, but that some other justice didn’t get to her first.
The same is true of another of Mystal’s punching bags, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld. Unlike Livas, Chua-Rubenfeld grew up with a lot of advantages, including having two Yale Law School professors for parents. Before he was elevated to the Supreme Court, Justice Kavanaugh hired Chua-Rubenfeld to clerk for him on the D.C. Circuit. She ended up clerking for former Kavanaugh clerk Britt Grant on the Eleventh Circuit instead, and then Justice Kavanaugh hired her as a Supreme Court clerk. This sent Mystal (and many of his lefty friends) into another blind rage, like most news about Justice Kavanaugh seems to do. But like Livas, Chua-Rubenfeld is exceedingly well qualified by any standard, and justices often re-hire clerks they “orphaned” by being elevated to the Supreme Court.
Athie Livas and Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld are serious, accomplished young lawyers with bright futures ahead of them. Elie Mystal is none of those things, as his own bitter ramblings demonstrate. And so because Livas and Chua-Rubenfeld can’t defend themselves—law clerks are bound by a strict ethical code—the rest of us should send Mystal a message on their behalf: knock it off.