Supreme Court: For Law Clerk Positions, Only “Elite” Law School Grads (In General) Need Apply

It seems that only graduates of “elite” legal education institutions (Harvard, Yale, Stanford) can apply to be law clerks for Justice Antonin Scalia.  Justice  Scalia spoke at American University’s Washington College of Law in May 2009.

A student at the event asked what a student that does not go to an “elite” law school needs to do to be successful as a future practicing lawyer. Justice Scalia responded, “Just work hard and be very good.” Fair enough, I suppose.

But this advice is not at all sufficient for a non-“elite” law school graduate to be a candidate for a Supreme Court law clerk position in his chambers. Nothing trumps an “elite” law school diploma.

‘By and large’, he said, ‘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.?’

I figure he can pick who works with him as he pleases. However, the taxpayer (most of whom do not attend these “elite” institutions), through the Congress, controls the salaries paid to Justice Scalia and the other Justices because the Supreme Court is a federal government institution.

There is rampant elitism already present in the selection of the law clerks. This is one reason why I cannot  support a 50% salary increase for federal judges (search judiciary pay for my previous posts on this subject).

Over the last six years, the justices have hired about 220 law clerks. Almost half went to Harvard or Yale. Chicago, Stanford, Virginia and Columbia collectively accounted for 50 others. No one from Washington College of Law made the cut.

Open questions, what are lawyers who are not in this select group supposed to do to earn money? Why have so many law schools if only  a select few can succeed?

Post Script

Supreme Court Law Clerks

Coverage of Supreme Court Law Clerks (click here)

Law Clerk Addict [added 9/2/11]

Clerkship Notification Blog

Oath of Supreme Court Justices

The following is the oath that Supreme Court Justices take upon entering their office:

I, [NAME], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as [TITLE] under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.


2 thoughts on “Supreme Court: For Law Clerk Positions, Only “Elite” Law School Grads (In General) Need Apply

  1. Obviously the problem is that there are simply too many law schools. The market is oversaturated with lawyers and there just aren’t enough of the elite jobs or clerkships to go around.


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