Hannah Clayson Smith: Two-time Supreme Court clerk balances legal endeavors with motherhood
"She is a remarkably talented person — very smart, articulate, interesting and engaging," Justice Alito wrote in a statement to the Deseret News. "I have the highest admiration for her ability and her character — and her wonderful family, her husband John, who also clerked for me, and her children Gladys, Lucy and George."
During one visit to the Supreme Court, Johnson recalls talking with Justice Thomas
"I remember him saying to me, 'Your sister has a brilliant mind, but she also has such compassion for people,'" Johnson recalled. "I just love that quote. I love that thought."
With two Supreme Court clerkships under her belt, Hannah left the high court, mulling offers of six-figure salaries and six-figure bonuses from private D.C.-based firms.
Though tempting, "I just felt really strongly that I needed to be at home with my child, to give her my full attention," she said.
Hannah also turned down an offer to work with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, though she loved their focus. She agreed that the founder, Seamus Hasson, would call her again in a year, which he did, and this time, they discussed details.
She told him she needed flexibility and the ability to work from home, especially because she was pregnant with her second child.
He agreed and told her they'd do whatever she wanted.
"It was really a wonderful offer," she said. "And I felt like the Lord's hand was in this (because) I felt that the Lord had given us a lot of opportunities along the way to develop this expertise in religious liberty, and I felt it was something that I could do that would join together my legal expertise and my interest in helping forward the mission of the church."
The Becket Fund is a non-partisan, public-interest law firm that handles religious liberty litigation, defending both individuals and churches that have had their religious rights threatened, Smith explained.
With an agreement that her work would not intrude on family needs, Hannah began working part-time in September 2007.
Thanks to technology, she serves entirely from home as an advisor, editor and mentor, sharing her legal expertise and insights on a variety of cutting-edge cases.
When she's not writing briefs or clarifying arguments, she's driving kids to preschool and volunteering in their classrooms. There are also trips to the zoo and puppet shows at the local children's theater. On the weekends, the Smith children soak up time with dad and take family walks.
And on those rare evenings when the children are in bed early and mom and dad get some precious time alone, the Smiths often discuss family history, as Hannah is a "prodigious" family researcher, said John.
"What I appreciate about it, is that she finds ways to make it relevant to our kids who are still young," John said. Like this past November, when Hannah made pilgrim and Mayflower figurines to tell the Thanksgiving story, which included details from the lives of the Smith and Clayson ancestors.
"She had their attention for a whole 20 minutes," John said. "She is always (thinking about) how to package something and present something so it's accessible and educational for them. I'm very grateful that her skills in advocacy and explanation have ready application in our home with our children."
While Hannah's children may not fully realize the depth of their mother's legal expertise, nor how much she is respected by those she's worked with and for, they know of her love, John says, especially when she greets them with enthusiastic hugs and hellos each morning and each time they come back from preschool.
"I'm really grateful that the Becket Fund has been so good to me," Hannah said. "(They've) permitted me to keep my hand in this really vital work of defending religious liberty while at the same time, putting my family first."
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