Close to 1000 civil rights activists rallied yesterday to draw attention to the meager number of minority law clerks hired each year by US Supreme Court justices. Nineteen people, including NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, were arrested after crossing police barricades on the steps of the Supreme Court to deliver petitions and minority clerk resumes to the justices.
Of the 34 law clerks hired to work in the current term, only one, a Hispanic, is a racial minority. And since 1972, less than 2 percent of the 428 clerks selected by the nine sitting justices have been black, about 4 percent have been Asian American, 1 percent have been Latino and none have been Native American, according to the NAACP.
The Supreme Court also has failed to hire adequate numbers of women. Only about a quarter of the clerks hired by the sitting justices since 1972 have been women. “This is not ambiguous,” said Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), who spoke at the rally. “This is clear [discrimination]. The numbers speak for themselves.” The court has also voted in the past few years to cut affirmative action programs and outlaw minority voting districts.
“The fact that the nine justices who sit on the highest court in the land do not practice equal opportunity exposes a great deal of hypocrisy,” Mfume said. “By not hiring more people of color, the Supreme Court is reducing opportunities and increasing the pain index for minorities.”
Working as a clerk offers many benefits to the student, including the opportunity to influence American law. Clerks often write first drafts of opinions supporting the justices’ positions on cases. Clerks are also more likely than those who are not selected for clerk positions to command high salaries at private law firms or hold influential positions in government or as law professors.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was approached earlier this year by leaders of several minority lawyer groups who requested a meeting to discuss this issue. Rehnquist declined, saying, “I have no control, nor would I seek to assert any control, over the hiring practices of my eight colleagues.” He went on to say, “I do not think the sort of meeting you propose in your letter would serve any useful purpose.”