Paul L. Caron

Monday, December 11, 2017

SCOTUS Law Clerks Are Still Mostly White And Male

National Law Journal, Shut Out: SCOTUS Law Clerks Still Mostly White and Male:

According to a National Law Journal study, the U.S. Supreme Court’s clerk ranks are less diverse than law school graduates or law firm associates—and the justices aren’t doing much to change that.

A year as a U.S. Supreme Court law clerk is a priceless ticket to the upper echelons of the legal profession. Former clerks have their pick of top-tier job offers and can command $350,000 hiring bonuses at law firms. ...

[A]mid the luster of being a law clerk, there’s an uncomfortable reality: It is an elite club still dominated by white men. While some variables are outside the court’s control, few justices seem to be going out of their way to boost diversity.

Research conducted by The National Law Journal found that since 2005—when the Roberts court began—85 percent of all law clerks have been white. Only 20 of the 487 clerks hired by justices were African-American, and eight were Hispanic. Twice as many men as women gain entry, even though as of last year, more than half of all law students are female.

The numbers show near-glacial progress since 1998, when USA Today and this reporter undertook the first-ever demographic study of Supreme Court clerks, revealing that fewer than 1.8 percent of the clerks hired by the then-members of the court were African-American (now it is 4 percent,) and 1 percent were Hispanic (now the figure hovers at roughly 1.5 percent). The percentage of clerks who are of Asian descent has doubled from 4.5 percent then to nearly 9 percent since 2005. Then, women comprised one-fourth of the clerks; now they make up roughly a third. ...

Low numbers span the court’s ideological spectrum. Only 12 percent of the clerks hired by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Clarence Thomas since 2005 were minorities. Ginsburg has hired only one African-American clerk since she joined the high court in 1993, and the same goes for Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who became a justice in 2006. ...


While Ginsburg and Breyer have hired men and women in equal numbers, other chambers continue to be male-dominated. The court’s swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, has hired six times as many men as women law clerks since 2005. Gorsuch, in his second term, has hired just one female law clerk. ...

Another trend that helps explain the lack of diversity is what Harvard Law School professor Andrew Crespo called “ideological sorting” in the clerk hiring process. Crespo, who in 2007 was elected the first Latino editor of Harvard Law Review, clerked for Breyer and Kagan.

“The more liberal justices tend to hire a greater number of liberal-leaning clerks than the conservative justices, and vice versa,” Crespo said. “If the small number of African-American and Latino applicants are also disproportionately liberal, then there may be fewer clerkship slots for which they are realistically competitive candidates.”


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Why is the analysis limited to race and gender? It would be interesting to know, for example, about sexual orientation (much discussed today) and disability (less so). How about religion, national origin, etc.?

Posted by: Lawyer | Dec 21, 2017 6:05:38 AM