When Sarah Pitlyk went to clerk for Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court, she found herself in a unique situation: Between the time she interviewed for the job, and went to begin the clerkship, Pitlyk had given birth.
“At the time,” Pitlyk told The Daily Signal, “it was unprecedented.”
“I was the first of his clerks who had ever had that kind of familial obligation to balance with the clerkship, which is a tremendously rewarding job, but also a very difficult job,” Pitlyk, who clerked for Kavanaugh at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 2010-2011, said. “Who knew if he was going to tolerate it from me?”
Pitlyk is one of three former female Supreme Court clerks The Daily Signal interviewed about their experience clerking for Kavanaugh, who President Donald Trump nominated to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired from the Supreme Court. She wasn’t the only one to find herself in a “unique” personal position during her clerkship—a sliver of the legal profession that, at the time, was dominated by men.
Rebecca Taibleson, who also clerked from 2010-2011, scheduled her wedding for right after the clerkship was slated to end.
“As we were coming up to the wedding and towards the end of my clerkship with Judge Kavanaugh, I was helping Judge Kavanaugh with a major opinion, and I think we were up to draft 125,” she told The Daily Signal. “It became clear that we were still going to be working on the opinion right up to the time I got married.”
Terrified, Taibleson decided to address it, and ask for a day off before the wedding to get organized.
“I said, ‘Judge, I’ve been thinking about it and I think I just need one day off before the wedding, just to get everything together, so I can keep working on this opinion right up till then.’”
Kavanaugh’s response? “He just started laughing,” Taibleson said, adding,
I thought, ‘Oh no. I shouldn’t have even asked. One day is too much. This opinion is too important. Never mind, never mind.’ And he interrupted me and he said, ‘Rebecca, no. You’re going to be taking a full week off before your wedding, and I’m not going to hear from you. Don’t worry, I’ve got this opinion covered. I don’t really need you on it,’ which is true, ‘and I’ll see you at the wedding and I don’t want to hear a peep from you before then.’
It was a “small thing,” Taibleson said, “but it really meant a lot to me because it was a big day.”
“It was a moment that really made me appreciate how he can balance really hard work with, fundamentally, humanity and understanding,” she said.
As for Pitlyk, who had a baby to balance with a federal clerkship, Kavanaugh did more than “tolerate” her situation—he proactively addressed it.
A couple months before the clerkship, Pitlyk was “just swimming around in concern about this issue.” Out of the blue, the judge called her.
“He said, ‘I know we have a situation here that I haven’t personally dealt with before,’” Pitlyk told The Daily Signal.
What proceeded, she described, was a “very frank and open conversation” about how he thought they could adapt chamber hours and other demands to accommodate her needs as a new mother.
“He asked me what I thought would be best and would be necessary. And he was just very open and respectful of my views as the person who was going to be in this situation,” Pitlyk said, adding:
We came to a mutually agreeable arrangement and I was just kind of floored, because I’d only had a child for a year and a half and I’d been working at a firm and I thought they’d been very accommodating. But no one had ever been as respectful and as proactive in trying to help me manage the competing obligations of my career and family as the judge was in that conversation.
However small, Pitlyk views Kavanaugh’s desire to accommodate her needs as a mother as an example of his support for gender equality—both in the law, and behind chamber doors.
Her story, along with Taibleson’s, come as the atmosphere supporting Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court grows increasingly tense. Hearings before the Senate begin on Sept. 4, and leading up to them, women are ramping up their attacks.
“I’m here today because of the genuine threat to hundreds of millions of women across this country,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said at a July press conference protesting his nomination. “A threat to their constitutional right to make decisions about their own bodies and a threat to their access to the full range of health care that they need to live productive lives and to grow healthy families.”
“He is a dangerous man who will endanger our fundamental freedoms,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said at a July rally.
Both Pitlyk and Taibleson say the issue of Roe v. Wade is a red herring used to stir up emotions.
“The fate of Roe v. Wade is really not what’s going to determine the fate of abortion in America,” Pitlyk said. “It’s really just a distraction.”
“The truth is, [Roe v. Wade] has been on the books since the early 1970s, and everything about Judge Kavanaugh’s record suggests that he takes each case on an individual basis,” added Taibleson.
Pitlyk said she wouldn’t be surprised if female clerks gravitate toward working for Kavanaugh because they hear from other clerks who have worked for him that it’s “a place not just of genuine gender equality, but equality of all kinds.”
“Where it’s just a pure meritocracy,” she said. “You work hard, and you do your best work, and it’s all about the work.”
Taibleson describes clerking for Kavanaugh as one of the most intense and inspiring experiences she’s ever had, and added that he continues to support her throughout her career.
“A majority of his clerks have been women,” she said. “What that means is that Judge Kavanaugh is really contributing to diversifying this segment of the legal profession. He’s doing that by hiring women as law clerks, but then also by mentoring them and advocating for them throughout their careers.”