He was patient as we reviewed the key points. But in the end, he indicated he would vote against staying the execution. I decided to reiterate what I thought was the petitioner’s strongest argument.
“No,” he said firmly, and thanked me for the call. I apologized for waking him and hung up. It was a fairly gentle exchange, but I was at a loss, equally unsure whether I’d been wrong for pushing, or whether I’d failed in making the case.
The justice came to my desk first thing the next morning. Before I could say anything, he apologized, saying he hoped he hadn’t been too short with me. “I forget you get baptized pretty quickly in this business,” he said, shaking his head.
It struck me as a remarkable act of empathy from a man who’d already been plenty patient with a rookie clerk and who had been, it later was clear to me, correct on the merits. But this was par for the course for Justice Stevens: deeply empathetic, and on the law almost always right.
— DEBORAH N. PEARLSTEIN, visiting associate professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and clerk from 1999 to 2000
Does this figurative use relate to the idiom a baptism of fire? Is Justice Stevens saying: he forgot that law clerks are introduced too soon in the business, and thus may insist and persevere on something wrong?