As the Supreme Court lawyer Tom Goldstein puts it, “Paul has turned the health-care fight from kind of a conservative dream that’s untied to reality into a very serious threat to undo the president’s signature accomplishment.” This alone would be a landmark achievement—and, for most lawyers, would have required their complete attention. But health care is just one of seven cases that Clement will be arguing in front of the Supreme Court this term, a caseload previously unheard of for a private attorney. In fact, since leaving the position of solicitor general under Bush, he has become, in the Obama age, a sort of anti–solicitor general—the go-to lawyer for some of the Republican Party’s most significant, and polarizing, legal causes....
At the age of 45, Clement, who has thinning brown hair and the faintest trace of a midwestern accent left over from his Wisconsin childhood, is already in the upper echelon of the Supreme Court bar. It’s an elite group of lawyers who, much like the justices they routinely argue cases before, conceive of themselves as being Olympian in their detachment from politics. Almost all of them graduated from Harvard or Yale or Stanford law school; clerked for a Supreme Court justice; or worked in the solicitor general’s office. (In Clement’s case, he did all three.) Now, in their private practices, they pride themselves on handling only serious cases brought by serious people in a serious manner; even if their client doesn’t prevail—or, worse, turns out to be on the wrong side of history—that stigma doesn’t fall on the lawyer. John W. Davis, who argued the losing side in Brown v. Board of Education, is still held up as an exemplary Supreme Court advocate.
Nevertheless, despite these lawyers’ contention that they aren’t political animals, they are, of course—and their extrajudicial activities often reflect as much. Ted Olson, the man Clement has supplanted as the top conservative Supreme Court lawyer, was an outspoken critic of Bill Clinton, served on the board of directors of The American Spectator, and helped found the Federalist Society. His legal cases were always assumed to reflect his ideological convictions. (Even now that he is seeking to overturn Prop 8, Olson’s personal support for gay marriage is a major story line in the legal fight.) The unusual thing about Clement is that, while he’s undoubtedly a conservative and a Republican, he has managed to avoid this fate. His persona is rarely conflated with the case he’s arguing.
Jason Zengerle, "The Paul Clement Court", also in New York's current issue.
Clement's political persona is "rarely conflated with the case he's arguing"... except, of course, that he's arguing the opposing side of Obamacare, the repeal of DOMA, arguing against race-based redistricting in Texas and defending South Carolina's attempt to impose voter ID. Clement is defending such a laundry list of right wing cases that Zengerle can barely keep a prose-bound straight face as he attempts to sell the notion that Clement represents a non-partisan ideal in Supreme Court advocacy. It's not the examination of Clement I object to, or the attempt to do a "let's see it from his side" presentation of Clement's views (that, at least, is moderately interesting). But seriously - the man is the former Solicitor General for George W Bush, currently serving as the go-to Supreme Court lawyer for Republican state Attorneys General. If that alone isn't a clear indication of the man's politics... then what, exactly, do political labels mean? It's not as if Clement can be mistaken as a Democrat, or that we can even find a liberal who'd take the depth and breadth of conservative causes on Clement's plate (and the example that proves that observation is Ted Olsen, the most noteworthy example in recent years of a lawyer crossing his usual political expectations to argue in favor of gay marriage rights). It would just be more honest, and more accurate to paint Clement as the kind of Republican that's all too hard to find these days: pleasant, respectful, willing to respect the rule of law, whatever the outcome, after making a well thought, full throated argument for his side. That's admirable enough, without pretending he's somehow nonpartisan.