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?

1 Answer 1



1 the saying baptism by fire is explicitly used,
2 an indication of undergoing extreme abuse or hardship is stated or implied,


I would say one of the normal meanings of


is meant

That is, it means an 'initiation' or, more to the point, an 'initiatory experience'.

I forget you get initiated pretty quickly in this business

And that baptism/initiation is undergone both (a) by ceremony and (b) by experience, and that it is the latter that is meant or stressed.

I forget you go through an initiatory experience pretty quickly in this business.

See definition 3.

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