Supreme clerk

by Jack Butler on September 26, 2013

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When Ryan Walsh was in 4th grade, he wanted to be president.

For now, the 2009 Hillsdale graduate and 2012 graduate of the University of Chicago’s law school will have to settle for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s law clerk on the Supreme Court.

Though such a clerkship is one of the most sought-after jobs for young legal professionals, Walsh’s getting it did not surprise those who knew him best, both off and on campus.

Peter Walsh ‘12, Ryan’s brother, said Ryan has shown unique drive and intelligence throughout his life.

“He’s a good listener. He wants to know, and if he can’t know, it’ll drive him nuts. He also knows the amount of work it takes. He doesn’t like not knowing,” Peter said. “Some people will say he’s obsessive, but when he finds out what he wants to do, he’ll put all his chips in.

“Ryan has always been a firm believer in, ‘if you will it, dude, it is no dream.’”

Associate Professor of Philosophy Nathan Schlueter, who first taught Ryan in 2007 for a class on American Conservatism, said he was impressive from the start.

“He was obviously curious, eager to learn and to know, and interested in a lot of the same questions I was,” Schlueter said. “He’s just the sort of guy who sets his mind to something and disciplines himself to get it done.”

But Ryan balances this intellectual curiosity and drive with humility and a relaxed demeanor.

“Ryan was never anxious or bound up about getting grades. He was focused, but he always knew how to have a good time,” Schlueter said. Ryan, for his part, said he takes his success in stride.

“My aspiration was to clerk for a justice, but you certainly can’t count on that. It takes hard work, and a huge element of luck,” he said. “I went to law school because I’m interested in Constitutional law, public law generally, and politics, all of which are closely related. I knew that if I went to law school to do what I was interested in, I would have to do well.”

Still, he very much enjoys his job.

“Scalia is great to work for. I admire him. He’s a great boss, he cares about what [clerks] think,” Ryan said. “The whole environment is thrilling, and the material is fascinating. Every day, I show up for work and I can’t believe I’m there. I feel very fortunate.”

Ryan also credits his education at Hillsdale for helping him to his current job.

“Hillsdale does a good job of teaching the fundamentals of reading, logic, and analysis, all of which are important in law school, and which Hillsdale teaches better because of its classical bent,” he said. “Taking classes on history, politics, and law did not present me with new material.”

Ryan cited Moreno and Somerville as particularly helpful in this regard. His experiences on and beyond Hillsdale, moreover, have taught him lessons he’s willing to provide to current students.

“Students in general should study what they love, take the meat-and-potatoes classes, and study with the great professors,” he said. “Students interested in law should think long and hard about whether law school is right for you. You could get a 180 on the LSAT and it could not be right for you.”

Ryan will be on campus this Friday at 12:00 pm, delivering a lecture on law and his experience in Dow Rooms A&B. (783)

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