Before they were professors, they were us

Professor Ashutosh Bhagwat

UC Davis law professor worked as Justice Anthony Kennedy’s clerk

When Professor Ashutosh Bhagwat of UC Davis’ School of Law was 26 years old, he was one of the 36 clerks for the United States Supreme Court Justices. Today, he teaches constitutional and administrative law, subjects that had great importance during his clerkship.

“I’m really interested in politics and policy,” Bhagwat said.

Bhagwat completed his undergraduate education at Yale, where he majored in history.  Following this, he moved to the University of Chicago’s Law School, where he graduated in 1990. The Federal Reserve was his next move, where he worked as a research assistant.

 From there, he moved back to Chicago for a clerkship position with Richard Posner, a justice on the Seventh Circuit Appellate Court. Posner is widely regarded as one of the fathers of law and economics, according to Bhagwat, and with him, Bhagwat gained experience for his next job.

At the Supreme Court, Bhagwat spent a year clerking for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who still serves. His clerkship responsibilities included researching issues and helping the Justice write opinions, which, according to Bhagwat, was a job that held some weight.

“Clerks had more influence in technical cases,” Bhagwat said. “You could actually convince the justices.”

Though he said that it is not rare for the Supreme Court justices to defer to the judgment of their clerks, they rarely do so on landmark cases, for which they are sure to draft their own opinions.

The clerking experience has traditionally been reserved for only a handful each year. Clerks are often young, a conscious decision by the justices, according to Bhagwat. Young clerks help the justices understand the newest trends in law, often displayed to students in school.

Bhagwat also said he believes that many justices hire clerks with little attention to political leanings, despite their own views. Hiring on this basis helps the justices keep an open mind to varying interpretations of laws.

“All the clerks were encouraged by Kennedy to come up with their own ideas,” Bhagwat said.

Bhagwat described his one year with the court as an incredible experience. He still keeps in touch with several of his co-clerks, and said that these close relationships were the most valuable part of the job for him.

“One of the coolest things about clerkships in general is that there’s a familial-like relationship … the [Justices] keep mentoring,” Bhagwat said.

Bhagwat’s clerkship played an important role in his job search.

“[Being a clerk] makes you an incredibly valuable commodity,” Bhagwat said. “It helped in getting my academic job.”

Before academia, Bhagwat worked at a law firm in Washington for two years, but said that the allure of teaching was stronger than that of private practice.

One [of the advantages of] teaching is you get to a much bigger range of things, you get to pick your topics … it’s a lot more freedom,” Bhagwat said.

Professor Diana Davis

History professor practiced veterinary medicine in refugee camps

Professor Diana Davis said that her particular interest in environmental history stemmed from experiences in her youth. She offers unique courses like History 109A, which analyzes the human perception of how the world has environmentally changed, and History 109B, which helps explain how environmental change relates to disease and public health.

Davis said that both courses reflect her personal history. Her early ambition revolved around pre-medical aspirations, and she traveled extensively, feeding her insight into fields she had not initially considered, like geography, a discipline in which she earned a master’s degree.

“I went to Morocco … to study nomads,” Davis said.

Davis reflected on this excursion saying that in studying the nomadic people of Morocco, it became clear one of their main concerns was a severe drought that was having a heavy impact on the animals in the region.

“I came back wanting to be a vet,” Davis said.

According to Davis, she had a stroke of luck and was accepted to Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.

During vet school, she said she was able to take a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the mid-nineties.

“This was before the rise of the Taliban and later Al Qaeda. The Soviet Union had just fallen a couple of years before … it was before things got so incredibly dangerous,” Davis said.

Davis was based in a town on the  Pakistan side of the Afghan-Pakistani border called Quetta. She said that for three months, she helped train Afghan male herders in basic veterinary medicine, using pictorial methods as many were illiterate.

“All the medical services and the veterinary services along with almost everything else in Afghanistan had been destroyed by the war,” Davis said.

Davis also interviewed women to see if their culture permitted them to be able to provide veterinary services. According to Davis it did, and the women were often more knowledgeable about the condition of animals than the men.

“Those three months, I worked largely in refugee camps,” Davis said.

She said she tried to learn the local language, Pashtu, but was largely unsuccessful, and so used an interpreter for interviews and conversations.

“I went straight into a PhD in geography at Berkeley. I wanted to go back to Afghanistan to get my PhD there, but it got increasingly dangerous,” Davis said.

She earned her PhD in 2001, and after this, ventured back to Morocco, studying ethno-veterinary medicine, a field which looks into how different cultures and peoples practice veterinary medicine.

After two years in Morocco, Davis also spent a year in France on scholarship.

She noted that the Moroccan nomads complained about NGOs (non-governmental organizations) as they had not been carefully considering the agricultural practices of the nomads.

These findings grew into Davis’ first book, Resurrecting the Granary of Rome, which looks at the colonial opinion of North African ecology and how these views have influenced the present day.

“My experience with the Afghans … profoundly shaped me. They were so kind, so gentle, so loving with their children and their animals,” Davis said.

Davis said that these years were transformative and integral in creating the educator and person she is today.

“As a trained geographer who has done extensive historical research on the Modern Middle East, Diana brings a refreshing interdisciplinary and theoretical sophistication to our department,” said Davis’ colleague Professor Omnia El Shakry of the History Department.

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