Supreme Monopoly: Justice Scalia Tells American Student That She Has Little Chance For Clerkship Because She Is At Wrong School

225px-antonin_scalia_scotus_photo_portraitJustice Antonin Scalia has once again earned himself the ire of law students. Not long ago, Scalia was clearly out-of-line in slapping down a law student for a perfectly reasonable question. Now, he is being quoted in telling students out of the top schools that, no matter how hard they work, they will probably never have a chance for a Supreme Court clerkship based entirely on their school. He basically threw the student a quarter and told her to call her mama and tell her that she was never going to be a Supreme Court clerk.

Salia was speaking about administrative law at American University Washington College of Law on April 24 when he was asked by a student what she would have to do to become “outrageously successful” without “connections and elite degrees.” He responded with an example of arbitrary and capricious reasoning in administrative law. The scene is now something of a signature moment for Scalia.

Scalia first responded with a correct, if robotic, “Just work hard and be very good.” Then that dominant Scalia gene kicked in, and he added:

“By and large, I’m going to be picking from the law schools that basically are the hardest to get into. They admit the best and the brightest, and they may not teach very well, but you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse. If they come in the best and the brightest, they’re probably going to leave the best and the brightest, O.K.?”

According to his view, he was speaking to an audience of “sow’s ears.”

Of course, it is true that justice rarely interview people out of the top law schools. However, that has less to do with the quality of the students as the bias and frankly laziness of the justices. It is ridiculous to believe that the top student at a school like American (ranked 45th) would not be competitive with the students at these other schools. More importantly, the justices should feel an obligation not to replicate this monopoly system. They hold one of nine positions on the highest court for the nation. They should act to look at students across the country and among the various schools.

Instead, Scalia basically follows the approach of Chicago Alderman Timothy O’Sullivan who once was asked by a young eager college student named Abner Mikva if you could volunteer on a campaign. When O’Sullivan asked “who sent you?”, Mikva responded, “Nobody.”. O’Sullivan responded with the classic: “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” O’Scalia’s approach to merit hiring is little better.

For the full story, click here.

50 thoughts on “Supreme Monopoly: Justice Scalia Tells American Student That She Has Little Chance For Clerkship Because She Is At Wrong School

  1. Doesn’t this say so much about this man and his prejudice? He is without doubt our worst SCOTUS justice and considering Roberts, Alito and Thomas are there, that says much about his lack of character and insight. He seems a nasty person, who is incapable of empathy, except to those of privilege. His legal philosophy is more one of sophistry than probity.

  2. Hey old man Scal, here’s a quarter, call someone who cares for your opinion, judicial or otherwise…what?! No answer…No surprise there…

  3. Scalia is right. Look at all the great people we got from the best schools–you know people willing to endorse torture? Yep, the best and the brightest.

  4. The people at the best schools are the people with money, connections and, oh, money. Privileged little brats who have no idea what life is like outside their bubble. That’s exactly what we need representing the United States you asshole.

    Especially as a student, I am fuming at these remarks.

  5. TDAL,
    Have you no respect for anything? George W. Bush went to Yale undergraduate and Harvard Business School. One should therefore assume that these institutions take only the most gifted and intelligent people. After all he was a President!

  6. Junk yard dog got no chance in this here country with the likes of that dog catcher.

    What a wood pecker.

  7. The basic problem with the meritocratic system is that it eventually reduces the pool of merit-worthy candidates to a much smaller subset of those people who could potentially perform at an elite level.
    The “best and brightest” may change over time. The person who was 10th best in undergrad may be among the best in grad school, and the person who was 10th best in grad school may be among the best in their chosen career field. It is indeed an arbitrary and capricious system.

  8. Well considering that he stated it as “you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse” I think it’s clear he’s approaching this from the wrong direction. For those of you who are “city-fied” it’s supposed to be “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”

    You know that explains alot about his style of judging…

  9. Scalia.

    You serving cake with that condescension?

    All the charm of a rabid pit bull on PCP and steroids.
    None of the table manners.

    He sometimes makes me think Nixon found a way to do a personality transplant before dying.

  10. The GOPers have been yammering about about elites for ages, yet, the place for graduates of Jerry Falwell U is the third tier of the administration, while the top is reserved for Harvard legacies like Bush or garden variety elitists like Scalia. he’s merely given away the rules of the game.

    Ratings, if anything, tend to be lagging indicators at best. My PhD is from what was considered a good second tier department. I did a postdoc at a place that usually makes the top 5 or 10 in terms of reputation, publication citations, etc. The PhD program at the top 5/10 school was weak in every respect–outdated curriculum, poor exposure to research populations, etc., and the students were pushed less to perform in terms of papers, presentation, coursework outside their subfield, but they had built the reputation and that’s what mattered to a lot of outside people.

  11. Justice Scalia is perfectly representative of the Republican model for a Supreme Court justice: someone given to partisan and reflexive decision-making, who enjoys socializing with favored litigants and who wholly lacks empathy.

  12. That’s true Mike A. He’s conservatively compassionate–(very, very conservative about being compassionate)!

  13. I don’t know about you all but it makes my heart go flippy flop. You call it SCOTUS I call it SCROTUM. LOL

  14. Is it possible that he is just being honest? Lots of people think people who graduate from Harvard or Yale are automatically smarter or more prepared than someone who graduates from Ohio State or Michigan. It doesn’t mean it is true, but lots of people believe it. I won’t presume to know how he or his staff chooses his clerks, but I imagine there are many many applicants and an easy way to knock a whole bunch of them out is by where they went to school. It isn’t right, but it would be an easy way to scale down the number of resumes you have to review.

  15. Obama to reverse decision on releasing new Abu Ghraib

    May 12, 2009

    Both Tapper and Bill Kristol noticed some extra nuance in Gibbs’s comments today:

    MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the president has great concern about any impact that pictures of potential detainee abuse, in the past, could have on the present-day service members that are protecting our freedom either in Iraq, Afghanistan or throughout the world. That’s something the president is very cognizant of. And we are working to — we are working currently to figure out what the process is, moving forward.

    Q Does that mean the decision could be reversed?

    MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to get into that right now.

    Kristol thinks that, at a minimum, The One will appeal the Second Circuit’s order that the photos be published: “The release of photos is less justifiable than that of memos in terms of the public’s right to know, soldiers are more popular than lawyers, and this wouldn’t be a (however distasteful) assault on the actions of a previous administration–this would be a gratuitous assault on the well-being and the reputation of our fighting men and women.” A fair point — Obama can afford to be seen as anti-CIA but not “anti-military” — although I wonder if he’s backpedaled so far on issues related to terrorism by now that he simply has to appease his base with this. He’s doubling down in Afghanistan; thanks to Pelosi, the torture debate is blowing up in his face (even by the admission of some lefties); he’s going forward with military tribunals; and on and on. Don’t think Cheney’s forgotten about those CIA memos that supposedly prove the value of enhanced interrogation, either: He promised Fox News this afternoon that he’s not going to “roll over” for Obama, even as liberals on WaPo’s op-ed page are starting to wonder if he’s right about torture after all. The One’s got to give the left something; why not give them this? He can blame the whole thing on the court order and call a presser to emphasize that the pics aren’t representative of the actions of the military as a whole, most members of which behave with impeccable discipline, etc. I’ll be surprised if he reverses himself.

    As a gloss on this subject, two videos from this morning of another Cheney who’s quite persuasive who framed the decision to release the photos as further evidence it becoming “fashionable for us to side with the terrorists.

  16. House Majority Leader: Congressional Hearings Might Be Forced To Explore Pelosi’s Interrogation Briefings


    Tuesday, May 12, 2009

    The House majority leader reluctantly agreed Tuesday that congressional hearings should investigate Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s assertion that she wasn’t informed, more than six years ago, that harsh interrogation methods were used on an Al-Qaeda leader.

    Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called Republican challenges to Pelosi’s assertion a diversion. Nonetheless, he acknowledged the Pelosi controversy should be resolved.

  17. Now it is wrong for a Chief Justice to be honest?

    I guess when you are an jerk like Souter you can get away with anything including misrepresenting yourself to get a job – like he did to get the Chief Justice Job.

  18. I think that you need to learn your terminology, Roberts is the Chief Judge presently. Rehnquist was the Chief Judge prior to that. I believe that he was one of the longest serving Chief Judges ever. I may stand to be corrected. So, this sound a lot like a troll to me.

  19. Mike A.,
    Your description of Scalia was right on the mark.
    Lots of trolls these days. New names, same old nonsense.
    I do have a question for Justice Scalia. Don’t the Harvard and Yale and Princeton law graduates have to pass the same Bar exam that the GW and American University and John Marshall law school graduates have to pass? If Scalia is accurate, shouldn’t the Elite Law School graduates have to pass a different Bar exam from us 2nd and 3rd tier graduates?

  20. I love Justice Scalia. Who could better make a prig of elite law school graduates (and by extension himself) than this guy? I believe we should enjoy cake and not praise the oven.

  21. Mespo72Cubed

    Prig huh? Hey Thank you for your congrats. Means a lot to me. Buddha did not chime in, he must be with the lucky lady, or the one that has learned the true definition of being with a fat shirt green person. Looks like Gazoo off of the Flinstones if you ask me. But then again, I offer my words freely.

  22. AY:

    Good for you. Somebody got a good lawyer and fine person too. Sometimes the two are mutually exclusive. Not around here of course, but in some remote areas like NY. Bob,Esq. are you listening? Buddha’s probably just enjoying some altered state of being somewhere. he’ll be back with more words to and for the wise.

  23. Oh and by the way, Churchill attended Sandhurst Military Academy, the British equivalent of West Point. Nice school but not exactly Cambridge or Oxford, sniff, sniff. Clement Atlee and Stanley Baldwin, who Churchill succeeded, attended Oxford and Cambridge respectively, as did most every other British Prime Minister save five. Wonder whom the good Justice would have preferred in a life or death situation with a madman at his throat instead of merely his researcher and the ghost author of his much opinionated opinions?

  24. Scalia is just a flamer and – for all his honors in law school – was not a particularly distinguished attorney before taking the bench. His sidekick Thomas is simply an abiding example of politically-connected mediocrity. Neither have ever presided over a jury trial yet insist on restricting the access of defendants to due process. Lifetime tenure on the bench is such an anachronism.

    At least Souder was a state trial judge at one point in his career: why can’t we have more jurists with that background on the bench?

  25. Hi

    I’m the law student who asked the question. I just want to thank you for the post and comments.

    Re MASkeptic, though, I think that Justice Scalia intentionally flipped the sow’s ear/silk purse comment, as reflected by his comment about being the best and brightest coming in.

    Best of luck to all!

  26. Addendum:

    I think Matthew N has a fair point. An overwhelming number of applicants may well be a major reason why connections and elite degrees matter.

    However, it does not sit well with me that not having the elite degree or connection could mean an applicant is simply out of the running.

    Any ideas on how to address this practical consideration in the hiring process?

  27. Sorry for all of the posts!

    To clarify and give context for my previous comment, Justice Scalia said that he wouldn’t hire outside of top schools because he can’t afford to take a chance when hiring a clerk, which goes beyond the practical consideration that Matthew N identified.

  28. AY, the correct terminology is that Roberts, like his predecessors, is the “Chief Justice of the United States.”

  29. I see a connection between the two stories: He doesn’t want cameras in the courtrooms for the same reason Rove scheduled few press conferences for W. The more times he’s before a live mic the more likely the public will come to view him as an elitist, out of touch, old white guy.

    Anyone else reminded of the Wizard of Oz, where the supposed awe-inspiring, learned “Wizard” is revealed to be a weak, old, deceptive white man who hides behind smoke and mirrors?

  30. CS,

    one obvious suggestion would be for the Supremes to consider applicants outside of the Harvard/Yale mafia if they are the top student in their class (could use a sliding scale – top 10 school, top 5% .. top 20 school, top 2%, etc). Three years of demonstrated exellence relative to your peers should be a far better indicator than the “throw darts and pray” admission process, even at Ivy Legue schools. They’ll get some rock stars, some mediocre students, and some losers who test well but can’t think their way out of a paper bag. IMHO, Scalia’s comment betrays laziness and blindness engendered by institutional elitism, little else.

    That said, the problem is arguably the result of the selection process for clerks at the courts of appeal level. S.Ct. clerks are very often supplied by “feeder judges,” friends of the Justices who regularly and personally recommend clerks, so their hiring decisions directly impact who gets a S.Ct. clerkship. Ignore Scalia’s buffoonery, and try your best to get a clerkship with Kazinski or another feeder judge at the circuit level. Beware, the competition for those spots is just as intense as the S.Ct. spots themselves.

    Also, the current lock on clerkships held by the Harvard/Yale mafia may be a product of the remarkable homogeneity of the current S.Ct., who are themselves almost entirely the product of those schools. And if clerks participate in the vetting process (as I did a District Court clerk), the bias is likely self-reinforcing.

    Maybe you could get your senator to ask about the clerk selection process during confirmation hearings. An unexpected question can sometimes be good for laughs.

  31. I tell you, I tell you. I got a sanction against one of them thar learned jurist for 23 thousand dollars. He hailed from that little ole schoolin house in a place called Quincy.

    It don’t matter, arrogance is abound. You can’t do that to me I went to Harvard don’t you know. He said. Well thar money spends just like my money. Oh, sorry, that is my money, have not had a bank refuse it yet.

    On a side note, I read a story once upon a time about the people that argued before the court and the success rates of which schools they went to, yada yada. It was a consensus that Harvard Lawyers won more cases. I just guess it means more lawyers appearing before the court went to Harvard than elsewhere. I think.

  32. Scalia obviously believes that he is cute with his snarling comments in his opinions for the Court, directed not only against parties litigant but to his colleagues on the Court as well. If this is untrue, then why does he persist in his arrogance?

    Worse, he thinks he’s impressive at the same time. He’s the Court’s contribution to the world of know-it-all jerks with big mouths who are found everywhere from the sleaziest bar to the plushiest university club.

  33. CS
    1, May 13, 2009 at 5:33 am
    “Hi … Re MASkeptic, though, I think that Justice Scalia intentionally flipped the sow’s ear/silk purse comment, as reflected by his comment about being the best and brightest coming in.”

    Yes, I agree with you on this, it was a very clever remark. Unfortunately it says that just getting into one of the premier skills is such a high level of accomplishment that a lesser education at that institution can not diminish the virtue of the caliber of the student and by extension, the students value. That’s assessment may be true on a case by case basis but as a rule it’s elitist and foolish. It’s not exactly the kind of critical thought I like to see coming out of a SCJ but Scalia has never hidden his predjudices.

  34. alex
    1, May 12, 2009 at 6:48 pm
    “Obama to reverse decision on releasing new Abu Ghraib

    He sure did.

    The network news is on and some news anchor attributed the decision to not wanting to inflame the public or put our troops in more danger.

    This to me isn’t about limiting damage IMO, it’s determining where the damage will fall. This issue poisons the Justice Department, the Intelligence Community, the relationship between Congress and those communities and various Departments and the relationship between the Executive/Congress and the citizens.

    This is the defining test for this generation regarding the rule of law. The political carnage that comes from a full investigation would be massive but that’s a lesser effect than a failure to release the photos and documents and proceed with a full investigation.

    A failure to proceed would cut the heart out of the country’s self image and projection to the world that we maintain some persuasive level of moral leadership. It would also damp down, if not entirely curdle the re-newed pride and hope a large segment of the electorate went to the polls to validate. Lastly IMO, it would validate the appearance of a two-tier system of justice.

  35. Scalia is so emboldened as to be able to do and say whatever he wants. There are no checks and balances anymore. The Supreme Court is the finest money can buy, they install their preferred president, rule routinely for Exxon & the rest and literally ridicule the people who come before them like the girl with the advil in her shorts. Where is Marbury vs. Madison when you need it?

  36. Re Anon23: interesting idea, although I don’t think it’s Congress’s place to tell judges how to hire their clerks. One minor hitch, though: as a DC resident I don’t have a senator.

  37. Frankly I don’t know what all the uproar is about. Scalia was just stating a fact. If you would rather have a sugar-coated fantasy view of the world then that speaks more about your intellectual failings than Scalia’s.

  38. rafflaw – There isn’t a Princeton Law.

    Law school does not prepare you for the bar exam. You have to study for the bar exam separately. So, why shouldn’t all lawyers have to take the same bar exam? Your point makes absolutely no sense.

  39. Josh Gerstein
    1100 Wilson Blvd
    Arlington, VA 22209 Suite 601
    Question to Elana Kagan on Don’t Ask/Tell Recruitment: US Recruits are not informed of Bush-created $25 Death Sentence Rewards for Captured US POW, which caused death of my nephew, PFC Kristian Menchaca, who was captured with PFC Thomas Tucker in Yosifiya, Iraq, 16 June 2006, both barbarically tortured to death as a consequence of Blood Money deficient Life Rewards which are not explained to recruits.
    Terrorists continue video recordings of the tortures on the Web.
    U.S. Reward fund wrongfully applied by the Bush administration clearly contributed to the torture deaths of captured U.S. soldier Prisoners of War denied Fourteenth Amendment equal protection of higher US offered $5 million each (average Reward life values for Terrorists) to $25 million (bin Ladin & Zawahiri) Bush assigned to captured Terrorist POW, but denied & diverted away from U.S. soldier Prisoners of War.
    PFC Kristian Menchaca & PFC Thomas Tucker were tortured to death as the consequence of insufficient 14th Reward life values (obviously insufficient Blood Money as viewed by Muslim culture) manipulated by Bush Administration; &, these insufficient Reward life values did contribute to the War Crimes applied by Muslim Terrorists against all 100% of captured U.S. soldier Prisoners of War in violations of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949.
    U.S. soldier POW would have survived if accorded their 14th Amendment equality of same Reward life values as captured terrorist Prisoners of War.
    Survival statistics clearly show 100% of U.S. soldier Prisoners of War denied equal protection of Reward life values were tortured to death & murdered (except Bowe Bergdahl) while virtually 100% of captured Terrorists with higher Reward life values survived capture.
    Of question: US diversion of U.S. Corporation donated Reward money that saved the lives of Terrorists while that same money was manipulated away from higher Reward life values for U.S. soldiers tortured to death.

  40. Wow, what a bunch of whiners.

    Look, Scalia is right. Typically, the best and brightest get in to the elite schools. If you were a busy justice and didn’t ant to waste time, it would make sense to choose from schools where you have a high likelihood of finding multiple candidates with the best and brightest credentials.

    Like it or not, that’s how it is. You want to clerk for a SCOTUS judge? Go to a top 5 school, or have connections- preferably both.

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