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Supplementing the Record: The Life and Career of Judge Edmund L. Palmieri


For approximately ninety years, lower federal court judges have hired law clerks to process the work of the courts. While the law clerks typically go onto successful careers as attorneys, law professors, government officials, and judges, it is rare that the former apprentices become so famous that their mentors are lost in their oversized shadows. This is the case, however, for former federal district court judge Edmund L. Palmieri. A highly respected jurist who sat in the Southern District of New York for over three decades, Palmieri has seemingly become the answer to the following trivial pursuit question: “What federal judge hired a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg as his law clerk?”

While Palmieri should be lauded for offering Ginsburg a position in his chambers, and credited for launching Ginsburg’s groundbreaking career, it is unfair to reduce him to an historical footnote in the story of the “Notorious RBG.” First of all, Ginsburg was neither the first nor the last female law clerk Palmieri hired; during a time when women struggled to find equality of opportunity in the legal profession, almost one-third of the Judge’s law clerks were women. And the first three female law clerks hired by Palmieri were Jewish. These progressive hiring practices alone warrant a closer look at the Judge. 

Additionally, Palmieri provides a model of what a modern clerkship should be – an invaluable educational opportunity in which a judge serves as role model, teacher, and mentor to newly-minted lawyers. Finally, Palmieri was a loving family man and dedicated public servant who applied his keen intellect to skillfully handle a wide variety of unique cases and novel legal issues which passed through his courtroom. A cultured man who spoke three languages, Palmieri was equally comfortable walking the streets of Brooklyn as he was the sidewalks of the Champs-Élysées. For these reasons, this essay will endeavor to extract Judge Edmund L. Palmieri from the long shadow of his favorite law clerk and return him to his proper place in the history of the federal judiciary.