Daniella Cass C’19, L’22 has been interested in the judiciary for a long time. She first began researching topics pertaining to judicial decision making as a high school student, and, as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, she won an award for her honors thesis entitled “The Politicization of the Supreme Court.” Now, as a third-year student at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, Cass has accepted the prestigious position of clerking for Supreme Court of the United States Justice Samuel A. Alito during the 2024-2025 term.
Before assuming her position with Justice Alito, Cass will first clerk for the Honorable Gerald Tjoflat, Senior Circuit Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and then for the Honorable Paul B. Matey, Circuit Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
“I’m really excited to see the issues in these cases as they’re coming up and to think, not about how to argue one side or the other, but about how to analyze the issue at hand and how to consider what the precedent will be from this point forward,” Cass said. “It will be interesting to engage in the process in all of the different clerkships – especially at the SCOTUS level, but in the Eleventh and Third Circuits, as well.”
Cass expressed gratitude to her recommenders, the Honorable Anthony Scirica, Senior Fellow at the Law School; Lecturer in Law Chip Becker; and Lecturer in Law Matthew Lee Wiener, Acting Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Executive Director of the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), for being great teachers and mentors. She also thanked Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law Ted Ruger and Dean of Students Felicia Lin, for their advice and support and credits the Law School’s clerkship office with providing invaluable support and preparation.
“The entire clerkship committee and staff, especially John H. Chestnut Professor of Law, Communication, and Computer and Information Science Christopher Yoo, David E. Kaufman & Leopold C. Glass Professor of Law Catherine Struve, and Chris Fritton CW’75, were so generous with their time and advice throughout the whole clerkship process,” Cass said, “I don’t think Penn Law’s clerkship program gets the attention it deserves.”
Cass, who is the third member of the Law School community in three years to receive a SCOTUS clerkship, hopes that other prospective students, current students, and alums will take note of the Law School’s strong clerkship program.
Confronting challenges before and during law school
Cass was born with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, which she describes as “one of the most severe types of autism.” As a result, she thinks about and analyzes things in different ways than most – something that she considers a strength, despite the obstacles it poses. Ultimately, she credits her family with providing her the support she needed to succeed and thrive.
“I have always regarded my autism as a gift that allows me to see things differently than most people, and I hope that I can help other students with learning disabilities recognize that no label or diagnosis disqualifies anyone from striving to follow their dreams,” Cass said. “After spending early childhood years in speech therapy just to learn to talk again, it’s amazing to me how much I now love oral advocacy.”
In addition to navigating the world with autism, Cass began her 1L year under exceedingly challenging circumstances. On the first day of 1L Orientation, Cass’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and throughout the semester, her mother underwent multiple surgeries and aggressive treatments. During that semester, Cass felt disengaged from her classes; she was worried about her mother and wanted to be at home with her family. When the pandemic forced everyone to pivot to online learning the following spring, Cass found that being near her mother actually helped to ground her.
“The first semester was really hard. I wanted to be with my mom during her treatments,” Cass said. “My mind wasn’t in class as much as it would have been if that hadn’t happened, so getting to be home a lot with the pandemic, oddly enough, really helped me focus more on my studies and what I wanted to do. All of these things put together helped [the clerkship] take shape.”
Fortunately, Cass’s mother is doing much better now. In reflecting on her challenging start to law school, Cass believes that the difficulty of her 1L year ultimately helped confirm she was on the right path – something that is worth more to her than completing flawless semesters and graduating with the highest possible marks.
“Getting to spend time with my family and getting to be home allowed me to clear my head and focus on the things that are the most important,” Cass said. “There were definitely times when it seemed like things were not going the way I hoped they would, and I thought, ‘Is this a sign that law is not the career path for me? Maybe I have to reevaluate and start all over,’ but having time to figure everything out and focus on the task at hand helped me to realize that I really enjoy this. The law is where I am meant to be.”
The importance of following your interests
Becker, who taught the “State Constitutional Law” course that Cass credits as having a significant impact on her interest in constitutional analysis, underscored the importance of Cass’s personable approach to professionalism.
“Daniella will be a terrific law clerk because of her sophisticated thinking, well-organized writing, and elegant oral expression. What matters even more is how she expresses thought and care for others,” said Becker. “Her contributions to the judicial family will be as outstanding as her contributions to the work of the courts.”
There is no denying that Cass was a highly-involved law student: she held a senior editor position with the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law and served as a guest executive editor for a symposium issue on the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy; she had a 2L summer judicial internship with Judge Neomi Rao of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; she has written and published several pieces focused on administrative law for The Regulatory Review; and she was a Keedy Cup finalist, earning a spot on the Law School’s National Moot Court team. Cass also completed over 200 pro bono hours with ACUS, an independent federal agency that provides recommendations to other agencies and Congress for improving administrative procedures.
“Daniella is a delightful and extraordinary person,” said Wiener. “My colleagues and I at ACUS were privileged to have the opportunity to work with her while she was a student at Penn Law. She contributed her formidable legal acumen and excellent writing abilities to several ACUS projects involving cutting-edge issues of administrative law. Her passion for and ever-growing knowledge of administrative law will serve her and the federal judiciary well during her clerkships.”
Prior to beginning the clerkship application process, Cass admitted to feeling daunted by the pressure of having to compile a laundry list of “perfect” qualifications that included participation in every possible high-achieving activity; nonetheless, her experiences interviewing for clerkships reinforced that both the judges and the Justice were looking for more than just a list of achievements. As much as they were looking for clerks with first-rate legal skills, they were also looking for the sort of people who would do well in their chambers.
“The surprising theme across the interviews with the judges and the Justice was that the most important quality was the fit with each of them. How do you think? Personality wise, how do you mesh?” Cass said. “Sometimes, when people sign up for different clubs, they think they have to do the most ‘serious’ ones, but something you want to do that is just fun might stand out more. Common interests can really come from anything.”
In addition to her academic-focused extracurriculars, Cass points to another important element of her law school journey: her membership on the Penn Law Bowling League team, “Bowlable Hours.”
“Having social experiences at the Law School made me realize that everyone around you is important to the journey in some way,” Cass said. “Even something small, like bowling, is important. For Judge Matey and Justice Alito, the first thing they asked me about was the bowling team!”