The retired Army general who has been running the Supreme Court clerk’s office for 21 years, William K. Suter, is not particularly devoted to the notion that just because something has always been done in one way means it should continue.   The Court was not still using quill pens when he arrived in 1991, but the technology of the place was not exactly Space Age.  If the Court is not yet entirely comfortable in the Digital Age, it is getting there, and Suter can take a good deal of the credit.

Like many who work at the Court, the clerk (he is The Clerk, not a law clerk) is not the public face of the Court.   But he had his moment as the Court closed its recent Term last Thursday.  Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., closed his annual tribute to the Court’s staff by recognizing Suter’s 50th anniversary in government service, coming on September 2.  That prompted a rare — and otherwise frowned-upon — burst of applause.  The Chief’s closing-day remarks can be read here.

From the time Suter joined the Army in 1962, he has remained in government service continuously, mainly rising in the ranks of the Army’s legal arm, the JAG Corps (that means “Judge Advocate General”).   He rose to the top of the Corps as acting Judge Advocate General before retiring and moving to the Supreme Court.  Previously, among other assignments, he was a judge on the Army’s top court, and led the JAG school based at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

The public does see him during the Court’s sessions in the courtroom, seated to the left of the bench, always in traditional legal garb.   He is the one who holds up the Bible and swears in new lawyers.  Not surprisingly, many newly commissioned military officers troop to the Court to be sworn in, and they get a personal greeting from the general when they do (as do all other newly admitted attorneys).

Among Clerks over a good many years, Suter also is the one least afraid of being seen chatting with reporters in the press room.   The Court’s secrets, though, are safe with him.


Posted in Everything Else

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Bill Suter marches on, and on…, SCOTUSblog (Jul. 2, 2012, 5:12 PM),