By David Lat
When I think of some of my favorite novels, I recall it sometimes took me several dozen pages to engage in those stories, but once I did, I could not put the books down. And so it is with David Lat's first novel, Supreme Ambitions. Once the story hooked me, I raced to the finish.
So what is the story? It's the story of a recent Yale Law graduate, Audrey Coyne, and her efforts to become one of the elect--a law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. In order to achieve that goal, she first must clerk for the right federal appellate court "feeder" judge, a judge who has connections with a member or members of the Supreme Court, and who places a clerk with a justice each year.
Lat spins Audrey's story out of the clerkship that Audrey serves with her judge, Christina Wong Stinson. Along the way, Coyne meets immigrants hoping to stay in the country despite a harsh ruling from a lower court judge; law clerks who will do whatever it takes to beat Coyne to the Supreme Court promised land; a law clerk serving in the dreaded state courts who may have a surprise or two up her sleeve; judges who are managers guiding a team (the law clerks) to the right result in the judges' estimation; and other judges who care not just about reaching the correct result, but the manner in which the correct result is reached.
Lat brings these various personalities to life, making each character reasonably believable. Lat particularly shines when he develops the political hot-button cases the law clerks must evaluate for their judges. Lat exposes the consequences of certain rulings, not just for the litigants, but for the judges themselves. Although his story is fictional, the implications obviously speak to the real world that the highest-level judges inhabit.
When one fictional judge decides to ride a particular result all the way to a Supreme Court appointment, the reader is forced to ponder what law is, or, as the protagonist suggests, "The notion of 'the law' as pure and objective, as an independent...