Live

Watch CBSN Live

Supreme, But Not Diverse Court

It seems that one side or the other of a legal argument is always picketing the Supreme Court.

But until Monday, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart the subject of the protest had never been the justices themselves.

Police arrested 16 demonstrators as they tried to turn attention to the fact that when it comes to hiring minorities, the Supreme Court has a record that would put most major corporations to shame.

Since 1972, only seven out of 428 law clerks have been blacks, or less than 2 percent. Four of the members -- Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Souter -- have never hired a black clerk.

Supreme Court officials declined to comment on their hiring practices and said they do not keep track of the number of minority clerks hired.

However, Justice Scalia told CBS News that people should know that the Court's hiring "is rigorously fair" and that he hires "the best and the brightest" that he can find regardless of race.

Justices can hire anyone they please as law clerks -- but the majority typically come from Harvard or Yale and are recommended by a small group of law professors and judges. As the first people to review cases and sometimes the first draft authors of decisions, the clerks are enormously powerful.

Looking to get more minority students into that mix, the National Bar Association recently wrote Rehnquist and asked for a meeting.

However, the Chief Justice said no, adding "I do not think the sort of meeting which you propose in your letter would serve any useful purpose."

"There's a perception that the judiciary is biased towards minorities," says Randy Jones, president of the National Bar Association. "What better way to change that perception than to have a diverse group of law clerks at the Supreme Court and at the federal courts throughout this land."

There's more than diversity at issue. Supreme Court clerkships can also mean money.

Crystal Nix, who clerked in 1991, says big league law firms offering big time salaries routinely pursue clerks.

But if the court does broaden its hiring practices, it will be totally voluntary. That's because the High Court does not fall under the same laws most of the rest of us do. As appointed positions, Supreme Court clerks are exempt from equal employment and anti-discrimination laws.

Reported by Jim Stewart
©1998, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved

View CBS News In