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U.S. Supreme Court Justices Dismiss Discrimination Claims

U.S. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and David H. Souter dismissed claims that the Court discriminates against women and minorities in hiring clerks during testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday.

Thomas and Souter were brought before the subcommittee to discuss the Court’s budgetary needs for the coming year. Democratic Representatives Julian C. Dixon of California and Jose E. Sarrano of New York took the opportunity to ask the Justices about their hiring practices. Serrano, who is Hispanic, asked “Shouldn’t the court’s staff “look more like America?” Dixon, who is African-American, noted, “In our world we will have to deal with this issue.”

Justices Thomas and Souter explained that they seek Supreme Court clerks who have experience as clerks for lower federal courts, who have excellent grades from top law schools, and who are recommended by trusted individuals. Thomas said that, although he and his fellow Justices “want to change” the low numbers of female and minority clerks, “At this level, you just can’t take chances.”

Thomas stated that persons meeting the Justice’s requirements are mostly white males and said that any blame for racial and sex discrimination belongs with the lower courts and with law schools, saying that the Justices “rely on the law schools and other courts to make the cut for us.”

Thomas stated that law schools should make sure that all of their students, including women and racial minorities, understand what steps they must take to qualify for Supreme Court clerkships. Thomas noted that, when he was in law school, the process was “almost secretive.”

Last year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) protested outside of the Supreme Court building after reports indicated that women and people of color were poorly represented among clerks. Of the last 394 law clerks hired by the current justices, blacks made up less than 2%, while Hispanics composed 1% and Asian-Americans made up less than 5%. The percentage of women clerks was also underrepresented, at less than 25%.

Sources:

Reuters and Washington Post - March 11, 1999

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