Adams didn't immediately comment about her time at the Supreme Court, and Sewell did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Sewell wasn't a Supreme Court clerk but he might still be a student of the high court. The Apple photograph that accompanied his retirement announcement showed him and Tim Cook, the company's chief executive, standing next to a row of books that included a biography of Louis Brandeis and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's "My Own Words."

 

Bruce Sewell, right, and Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Bruce Sewell, right, and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

 

The 1993-94 Supreme Court term produced no true blockbuster decisions, but a good share of interesting and important legal challenges.

In J.E.B. v. Alabama, the justices ruled that the equal protection clause prohibits discrimination in jury selection on the basis of gender. The constitutionality of the "must carry" provisions of telecom law was at stake in Turner Broadcasting v. Federal Communications Commission. The justices dealt with abortion clinic buffer zones in Madsen v. Women's Health Center and a takings claim in Dolan v. City of Tigard. The First Amendment establishment clause figured in Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet.

In April 1994, Justice Harry Blackmun, author of the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade, announced he would retire after 24 years on the court.

Gibson Dunn's Perry recalled one case in which O'Connor was assigned the opinion but the clerks were sharply divided on what approach to take. "Kate came up with an alternative that all the clerks could tolerate and, most importantly of course, Justice O’Connor loved," he said. "In this respect and others, Kate was more than a law clerk. She was a counselor to the justice."

Perry said Adams showed "keen intellect and cutting wit," both of which were on full display at the end-of-term skit that is traditionally put on by all of the clerks. "She gave a wicked good impression of Justice O'Connor," he said.

O'Connor clerks had a tradition where they would meet on Saturday mornings before the week of arguments to discuss the cases for that week, said Yale Law School's James Forman Jr., who also clerked for O'Connor the same term as Adams. O'Connor would make breakfast for them on those mornings.

"The building was pretty empty and we would be sitting in the justice's chambers on couches all in southwestern décor and we would each present the case we had worked on for that week and give our recommendation," Forman said. "I was a liberal clerk and we had a more conservative clerk and then Kate was like the moderate—always in the middle, able to see both sides of the issues—one of her great strengths. She was always very balanced, very open-minded, very pragmatic, nonideological. It really makes her a natural for [the Apple] job."

Adams also could take a bit of humor at her own expense, he said.

O'Connor had an exercise class in the Supreme Court's gym two to three times a week, early in the morning, with a group of friends who lived near the court. They had hired a trainer and the class was only for women. The justice invited her female clerks to join the class.

"Justice O'Connor thought of it as sort of a special honor, a special time when the female clerks could spend a little time with her and her friends," Forman said. "But that was from Justice O'Connor's perspective. From Kate's perspective, three days a week when her fellow clerks were sleeping in, she had to get up early for an exercise class and she is in supremely good shape. She's 25 years old, very athletic. So you have a group of 70-year-old women doing calisthenics at the pace of someone 70 years old and you have Kate, who's supposed to think of it as a great treat."

Because Adams is "incredibly gracious," he said, she went right along with it. "It became a little bit of joke among her co-clerks because we would always say, 'You must be in incredible shape because you're having this intense workout two, three times a week,' and she would give us the evil eye."

Perry said even to this day there are life lessons he attributes to having worked with Adams. "I had lunch with Kate nearly every day and am a better person for it," Perry recalled. "Among other things, Kate encouraged me to pursue the relationship with the lovely lady to whom I have now been married for almost two decades, and Kate also taught me not to take myself so seriously."