U.S. Supreme Court justice chooses UH Law graduate to serve as law clerk

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: Jan 11, 2016

Kamaile Turcan
Kamaile Turcan

Kamaile Turčan (née Nichols), a graduate of Kamehameha Schools, UC Berkeley and the William S. Richardson School of Law at UH Mānoa, has been chosen for a prestigious law clerk position by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor beginning this summer.

This is the first time a UH Law School graduate has been invited to clerk for a United States Supreme Court Justice – as well as the first time that a person of Native Hawaiian ancestry has served as a law clerk to any Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Said Turčan, who was known to friends and colleagues as Kamaile Nichols before her marriage in 2013, “The opportunity to work on some of the biggest legal questions of our day, to help Justice Sotomayor, is the ultimate opportunity for a young lawyer and an unparalleled experience."

“It’s an incredible lifetime opportunity for any law graduate, let alone one from Hawai‘i, and I have to keep pinching myself.  One of the exciting things about the Court is one never knows what nationally important issue will present itself,” she added. “The Court is always faced with ‘hot topics,’ such as civil rights, the scope of the 4th Amendment protections in light of rapidly changing technology, and weighty legal disputes between Congress and the President.”

Turčan is a Waialae Nui resident who grew up in Mililani and has family in Waialua. She is a 1998 graduate and salutatorian of Kamehameha Schools, and received her BA in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley in 2001. After working for several years as a field biologist, she entered the UH Law School, graduating in 2008 with a Certificate in Environmental Law. She served as Editor-in-Chief of the UH Law Review, participated on the International Environmental Law Moot Court team, and received the Carl K. Mirikitani Jr. Valedictory Prize.

After graduating, Turčan served as a law clerk for Federal District Court Judge David Ezra, followed by a clerkship with Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Clifton.  She describes those two experiences as essential preparations for her coming clerkship with Justice Sotomayor.

“What I learned as a law clerk for Judge Ezra at the U.S. District Court and for Judge Clifton at the Ninth Circuit will be invaluable to my work with the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Turčan. “I am so grateful to have had those two amazing judicial mentors and courtroom experiences to draw upon.”

Turčan also emphasizes the role of the UH Law School in opening up this opportunity.  “I would not be in this position were it not for the advice, guidance and friendly nudges in the right direction from Dean Avi Soifer and my ‘ʻohana at Richardson,” she said.

Turčan currently works in Hawai‘i as an Attorney Advisor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), providing legal advice to the federal agency tasked with managing and conserving fishery resources and protected species within the Western and Central Pacific Region.  The scope of her work includes environmental law, administrative law and some international law.

She has been an attorney with the Pacific Islands Section of NOAA since 2011.

UH Law Dean Avi Soifer said that he and the Law School are thrilled to have a graduate serve as a clerk in the nation’s highest court. “Kamaile is an outstanding example of the high level of achievement and diverse talents of our students,” he said. “For an attorney, one simply cannot do better than to clerk for a United States Supreme Court Justice.  The opportunity for Kamaile to assist and be mentored by Justice Sotomayor, whose life story is so inspiring, is even more special.”

Soifer noted that Turčan is certain to bring her warmth and compassion as well as her legal and scientific expertise to the clerkship. “Like Justice Sotomayor herself,” he added, “Kamaile Turčan has exceptional intellect, a culturally rich background, and is a most worthy pathbreaker.”

It was through Richardson Law School that Turčan first met Justice Sotomayor, when the Justice visited the UH Law School in 2012 as part of the school’s Jurists-in-Residence program that brings Supreme Court Justices to the Law School every other year.  Dean Soifer, together with Judge Clifton, introduced Turčan to Justice Sotomayor.

“It was such a treat to meet her in person,” said Turčan of Sotomayor. “It speaks so highly of our Law School that we attract such a high caliber of jurists and scholars to Hawai‘i to enrich our legal community.  The exchange and connections are invaluable.”

With her particular expertise in environmental and administrative law, Turčan hopes to be able to bring that knowledge to bear as she performs research and writing duties for Justice Sotomayor. She earned an Environmental Law Certificate at UH Law School, and explains that she fell in love with constitutional law after taking a class taught by the late Professor Jon Van Dyke.  She has taught legal writing at the Law School as a Lecturer several times and had already signed up to teach administrative law during the Spring 2016 semester.

Turčan said that in general there are four main duties of a Supreme Court law clerk: helping to review petitions for writ of certiorari to make recommendations as to whether the Court should hear the case; drafting bench memos to help prepare the Justice for oral arguments; researching and assisting in drafting judicial opinions; and assisting the Justices in deciding emergency applications to the Court.

“I can’t say exactly what life will hold for me once the clerkship is over, but I do know I would like to eventually bring this once-in-a-lifetime experience home to Hawai‘i with me, and to share it with the community that has supported and nurtured me and my legal career,” said Turčan.

For more information, visit: https://www.law.hawaii.edu/