1998 NCC News Archives

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NCC Joins Call for More Minority Law Clerks at U.S. Supreme Court
NAACP Rally Set for 9 a.m. Monday, Oct. 5, in Front of the U.S. Supreme Court

Oct. 2, 1998, WASHINGTON, D.C. -- How can a young Native, Asian, Hispanic or African American aspire to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice if he or she has so little hope of becoming a law clerk in that court?

The Rev. Dr. Staccato Powell, National Council of Churches Associate General Secretary for National Ministries, will be asking that and other questions on Monday (Oct. 5) when he addresses a 9 a.m. NAACP-sponsored rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

His question arises from the NAACP’s finding that of the 394 law clerks hired by the current judges during their respective terms, fewer than 2 percent have been African American, only 1 percent Hispanic, and fewer than 5 percent Asian American. None have been Native American and fewer than one quarter have been women.

Each of the nine Justices is allowed up to four law clerks a year. These clerks review all cases brought before the Court and help decide which ones the Justices should hear. They often write the first drafts of the decisions. Thirty-four law clerks currently are serving, including 22 white men, 11 white women and one Hispanic woman. More than 40 percent of law school graduates now are women and nearly 20 percent are minorities.

"The law clerks serving the U.S. Supreme Court need to be much more reflective of the fabric of America," Dr. Powell said. "Law clerks actually shape the decisions made by the Court, and we know how long it takes to get a decision reversed. The 1896 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson set a precedent for ‘separate but equal’ public facilities for blacks and whites that stood for nearly 60 years before Brown v. Board of Education overturned it in 1954.

"Cases on which the U.S. Supreme Court rules have an impact on an entire generation. This Court, the highest court in the country, has the final say on such important issues as affirmative action, civil rights, access to education, workplace discrimination, and life or death.

"The NCC is an ally in this attempt to bring attention to this practice of prima facie discrimination," Dr. Powell said. "This issue does not simply impact the discipline of jurisprudence. Equally important is the erosion of the Biblical principle of justice. As people of faith, we are compelled to be prophetic in our call for justice. In the spirit of Amos, we implore the highest court in the land to let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

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