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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Supreme Court Law Clerks from Non-Elite Schools

The New York Times yesterday discussed why news reporters should keep up with Justice Scalia. In his article, "On the Bench and Off, the Eminently Quotable Justice Scalia," Adam Liptak noted some of Justice Scalia's most recent memorable musings.  For instance, when asked by a student at the American University Washington College of Law (WCL - my alma mater) what her chances were of getting a clerkship with the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Scalia responded, "Not good." 

As a graduate of WCL, I hope that the Supreme Court will eventually hire more law clerks from non-elite schools.  Might Justice Alito's recent decision to hire a 2004 graduate of Seton Hall Law School (as noted here) signal such a trend?  Why not?  Justice Scalia himself noted that the law clerk "whom [he was] most proud of now sits on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals."  He was referring to Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton.  Justice Scalia explained, "I wouldn't have hired Jeff Sutton . . . For God's sake, he went to Ohio State!" 

Posted by Rose Cuison Villazor on May 13, 2009 at 03:55 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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So, according to Thomas Barnes every lawyer is equal because a tort is a tort and a crime is a crime and we all have to "pass" the bar. It is logical reasoning lapses like this that often distinguish lawyers and law schools. Under his reasoning, I suppose it would make sense for a client to select an attorney by randomly pointing to a name in the yellow pages or picking a name out of a hat. My God (to quote Justice Scalia)!

Posted by: Laura Victoria | May 19, 2009 11:55:44 AM

The notion of elite is the problem. Why is one school elite and another school inferior? The last time I checked, all lawyers must take and pass a state administered bar exam. That should level the field, however, it doesn't because there are individuals in this world with an elite mentality. It is a disgrace to our legal profession. Quite frankly, I have worked with some Ivy League graduates and I don't know what is so special about the education they received. A tort is a tort a crime is a crime and I stick my pants on one leg at time. I pray the legal world gets away from elitism; I graduated from Thomas M. Cooley law school, trust me there are students at Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc. that would have trouble passing

Posted by: Thomas G. Barnes | May 18, 2009 11:52:33 AM

If I understand Justice Scalia correctly, he is admitting that the quality of legal education at top law schools is inferior, but claims that legal education is irrelevant because "you can't make a sow's ear out of a silk purse." But doesn't Justice Scalia's clerk selection process exacerbate the problem? Schools that are ranked highly in U.S. News will have no incentive to devote scarce resources toward teaching if prospective employers do not care about how adequately the graduates of those schools are trained. This is why top schools hire faculty almost solely on the basis of scholarship, and teaching is an afterthought at best. Yale, Harvard, and Stanford might produce fewer teachers of the sort "Cynical" has experienced if achievement in law school (as opposed to achievement before law school) were given more value in the selection of candidates for prestigious positions.

Posted by: Anonymous III | May 15, 2009 12:15:20 AM

This is further proof that Scalia cannot think independently. I wish I had a nickel for every pompous windbag Harvard-Yale-Stanford law professor that I've had to suffer through, both when I was a student (at a top 15 school) and as a professor. The affected air of profundity, the staged quizzical pauses, the go-nowhere rhetorical questions, the fake English accents, the intellectual tourism, the unearned sense of entitlement -- no wonder Scalia and his ilk are so attracted to this pool of 'talent.'

Posted by: Cynical | May 13, 2009 11:00:21 PM

anon anon,

are you suggesting that law professors have a "prestige chasing for me, but not for thee" bias? what's the basis of that claim?

Posted by: anon anon anon | May 13, 2009 10:52:45 PM

Perhaps we should start considering candidates for all law jobs (including professor) from "non-elite" schools. People go to law schools for various reasons and I think its ridiculous to assume that someone goes to a particular law school because "its the best one they could get into."

Some people, smartly, go to a lesser school because they can get a full scholarship and wont have to incur tens of thousands of dollars in school loans. Others may go to regional law schools because of local family commitments at the time.

Hopefully one can see the humor in a law professor who went to a top 25ish school complaining about doors being shut based on where he/she went to law school. Good thing you didn't go to #75 on the US News report that we all abhor yet continue to subscribe to or you might not be a "prawf."

Posted by: anon anon | May 13, 2009 5:02:24 PM

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