A Novel, by David Lat
David Lat’s novel, Supreme Ambitions, follows a young law school graduate, Audrey Coyne, through the ups and downs of her tenure as a law clerk to the Honorable Christina Wong Stinson, an Asian-American conservative judge for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who has her sights set on the next Supreme Court nomination. The inside cover contains the usual language that the book is a work of fiction, and that any resemblance to actual persons is coincidental. However, one need only read a few pages into Mr. Lat’s freshman novel to find characters that show the aforementioned disclaimer to be a pure formality. One cannot mistake the true inspiration behind Judges Polanski (a charismatic Eastern European, with a conservative bent and a history of sending clerks to the Supreme Court) and Gottlieb (a liberal lion with a history of clashing with Judge Polanski) as anyone but the well known Ninth Circuit Judges Kozinski and Reinhardt.
But perhaps it is precisely these barely-veiled references that give David Lat’s freshman novel its charm. It is, in essence, an affectionate homage to the author’s own clerkship experience in the guise of legal fiction. Indeed, the plot of the novel seems somewhat secondary to Lat’s nostalgic descriptions of the Browning Courthouse and Pasadena landmarks that so characterize the experience of many Ninth Circuit clerks. The plot in a nutshell: As Audrey Coyne faces the trials and tribulations of clerking for a high-powered and ambitious federal judge, she rises to the task with the support of her friends, a familiar cast of characters, including Jeremy (Audrey’s best friend from Harvard Law) and Harvetta (a brilliant and frequently underestimated African American woman from a third tier law school). Soon Audrey finds herself faced with an ethical dilemma that may jeopardize her chance to secure a Supreme Court clerkship and may put her entire career at risk. Will she do the right thing? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, thanks to a rather fortuitous twist of fate and the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, one does find oneself invested in Audrey’s journey, which is replete with emotional highs and lows and life lessons learned, but still moves along briskly from start to finish of her clerkship year.