Attorney Cam Norris Talks Clerking for Justice Thomas and the Tennessee Supreme Court Selection Process

Live from Music Row, Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Partner Attorney Cam Norris of Consovoy McCarthy Park Cam Norris and East Tennessean to the newsmaker line to discuss clerking for Justice Clarence Thomas and the Tennessee Supreme Court candidate process.

Leahy: We are joined now on our newsmaker line by attorney Cam Norris. He’s a partner with the internationally recognized law firm Consovoy McCarthy Park. And Cam, you’re sort of an expert on things, political things, having to do with the Supreme Court, as I understand it, you were a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Is that right?

Norris: That’s right, Michael, and good morning. I appreciate you having me on. I did get the opportunity to serve Justice Thomas in what they call the October term of 2017. The years 2017 through 2018. And it was the best job I’ve ever had.

Leahy: How does one go about applying for such a job because it’s highly competitive? You are a Vanderbilt undergrad and went to Vanderbilt Law School. You live in Knoxville now, but sort of like, how do you get in the mix to be considered to be a clerk for Justice Thomas?

Norris: It’s almost a cliche now, but everyone who clerks at the Supreme Court says it’s kind of like getting struck by lightning. And it’s really true. It’s hard to say, but everyone there has clerked, worked hard in law school, and clerked for lower court judges, typically on the Federal Court of Appeals. And that’s what I did.

I clerked for two great judges on the Federal Court of Appeals. And they sort of helped me navigate the process and get in the mix. And from there, I don’t know what happened, but I was lucky enough to get it.

Leahy: Do you have an interview with Justice Thomas? Tell us about that.

Norris: You do. And if I never got into clerkship, that still would have been one of the best days of my life. You get to sit down with Justice Thomas and speak to him for about an hour. And it’s half interview and it’s half just wanting to get to know you and see what kind of person you are. And you really get to talk to him for a while, which is unusual in and of itself.

Leahy: Does he have a big office?

Norris: It’s pretty big. He keeps a roaring fireplace going in there. I was sweating during that interview, but it was an awesome time.

Leahy: What kind of questions did he ask you?

Norris: It was mostly so I don’t know if you know this, Michael, but some justices do this differently. But in the interview process, there’s typically a process with the law clerks first, and then you go talk to the justice. And typically the process with the law clerks is they grill you about the law and judicial philosophy and case law and your understanding of the issues for about an hour. I got through that process and survived, and then I got to go talk to Justice Thomas. And that was mostly because he wanted to know about me and my personal background. And he’s just so gracious and really was interested in who I was.

Leahy: Yes, that’s something when you go into a situation like that and a Supreme Court Justice is interested in, you go, wow!

Norris: Exactly. It was so interesting. He has the most interesting backstory of all. And the idea that he wanted to know more about me was just humbling and really awesome. And he’s like that throughout the rest of the year during the clerkship.

Leahy: So what was the year like?

Norris: It was an exciting year. I know they like to say every term is a blockbuster term, but I clerked on the last year that Justice Kennedy was in office and also when the Trump administration was getting going. So we had a lot of interesting cases.

We had a case about the travel ban that President Trump had imposed that was challenged. We had cases about religious liberty. We had cases about interstate taxes. We had a whole good sample of issues across the spectrum.

Leahy: A great year. Now you work for Consovoy McCarthy Park. You actually argued a case before the Supreme Court in 2020 successfully. That’s a pretty good record Cam.

Norris: That’s right, yes. I argued my first case actually as an associate, which is not too common. Typically the Supreme Court arguments are reserved for the partners. But I moved back home to Knoxville and then the company I represented as a Knoxville-based company, and it was a tax dispute that they had with the government and something of a bit of a narrative of expertise I’ve developed. I got the case, and my law firm is great enough that they let an associate argue it.

Leahy: You’re not an associate anymore. I think you’re a partner, right?

Norris: That’s correct. I made partner after that.

Leahy: Win a case in the Supreme Court and become partner. That makes sense. (Laughter) I had you on because I wanted to talk to you about there is an opening in the Tennessee Supreme Court. Sharon Lee, who was appointed by the Democrat Governor Phil Bredesen, has announced her retirement in August of 2023.

What can you tell us about the process by which Governor Lee is going to go about and select the next member? Doesn’t he have to pick somebody from East Tennessee?

Norris: Pretty much, yes. The Tennessee Supreme Court by law cannot have more than two people from the same grand division of the state. And so they already have two from the west and two from the middle. And so Justice Lee is from the east, and just by necessity, then, her replacement is going to need to be from East Tennessee.

Leahy: How does Governor Lee go about determining who he is going to select to be the next Tennessee Supreme Court Justice? It’s got to be confirmed by the General Assembly, right?

Norris: That’s right. And Tennessee has a little bit of process involved before the governor makes his selection. It’s funny, just like any other job, there’s a job application window. There’s something you fill out online.

Leahy: You can apply for the job?

Norris: You can apply for the job. Yes, they’re the qualifications you need to meet, but just a job application like any other. You turn that in and then the governor has a council that really screens the people who apply first and then of those people that council will nominate, I believe, three people to the governor, and the governor selects it there.

Leahy: Justice Lee announced her retirement on November 17th. We are on December 5th. Have they opened the application portal that you know of?

Norris: They have, yes. It is open now.

Leahy: Hmm. And how many people do you think will apply for it?

Norris: It’s funny, even though it’s sort of just a wide-open application. I believe if you look at the historical track record of these judgeships really not that many people apply. I think people tend to self-select and honestly gauge their qualifications. It really tends to be a really small group, but all are really highly qualified.

Leahy: If you don’t think you have a chance and you’re an attorney, you probably don’t apply, but if you think you have a chance, you might. I happen to notice that you’re from East Tennessee.

Norris: (Chuckles) I am from here, and I braved it out in Washington D.C. for a few years but couldn’t stand it and headed back home. (Inaudible crosstalk)

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Cameron Norris” by Consovoy McCarthy. Photo “Clarence Thomas” by Steve Petteway. Background Photo “Tennessee Supreme Court” by Reading Tom. CC BY 2.0.



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