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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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!

  8. @ Rich

    Why not post your resume? Might make more sense than your first paragraph.

  9. 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?

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. Thank you for the link, Jill. I will check the information in more detail later.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

Comments are closed.