Thursday, August 31, 2006

Women Underrepresented in the Court

Mikaela says: Just when we need women more than ever...

Women Suddenly Scarce Among Justices’ Clerks

Just under 50 percent of new law school graduates in 2005 were women. Yet women account for only 7 of the 37 law clerkships for the new term, the first time the number has been in the single digits since 1994.

[Last year] by the end of the term, there were 16 women among the 43 law clerks hired by last term’s justices. ...

[Law clerks] play a significant role in screening new cases, though, and they help their justices in preparing for argument and in drafting opinions. [Important when Roe v. Wade is under attack this term...]

While their pay is a modest [*&^%!@*] $63,335 for their year of service, a Supreme Court clerkship is money in the bank: the clerks are considered such a catch that law firms are currently paying each one they hire a signing bonus of $200,000....

A post on one popular legal Web site, asked, “Why so few women Supreme Court clerks?” The answers included the relative scarcity of female students among the top editors of the leading law schools’ law reviews — an important preclerkship credential — and the absence of women among the “feeder judges,” the dozen or so federal appeals court judges who offer a reliable pipeline to the Supreme Court for their own favored law clerks.

Some speculated that Justice Antonin Scalia, who hired only two women among 28 law clerks during the last seven years and who will have none this year, could not find enough conservative women to meet his test of ideological purity. (Justice Clarence Thomas will also have no female clerks this year, but over the preceding six years hired 11.)

In a brief telephone interview, Justice O’Connor said she was “surprised” by the development, but declined to speculate on the cause.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed no such surprise. In a conversation the other day, she knew the numbers off the top of her head....

Justice Ginsburg declined during the conversation to comment further on the clerkship numbers. Why not ask a justice who has not hired any women for the coming term, she suggested.

One who is in that position, Justice Souter, said he was disappointed to find himself without any female clerks. He explained that he had hired the top four applicants, who turned out to be men.

Unaware of the overall drop in numbers, Justice Souter said he assumed it reflected no more than a random variation among this year’s applicants.

That was also the assessment offered by Justice Breyer, who nonetheless has hired his usual total of two women for his four law clerk positions.

In the last seven years, Justice Breyer has hired more women than any other member of the court; more than half his law clerks, 15 of 28, have been women....

  • [T]he clerkship cadre remains overwhelmingly white.
  • It was not until the 1940s that any justice hired either a female or black law clerk.
  • [T]he first female clerk [was hired] in 1944, and it was 22 years before the second. The first black clerk [a man] was hired by Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1948.
  • Justice Frankfurter was not, however, ready to hire a woman when the dean of Harvard Law School strongly recommended a former star student in 1960. He turned down Ruth Bader Ginsburg.