From the Worldwide Faith News archives

NCCCUSA Executive Arrested at U.S. Supreme Court

Date 05 Oct 1998 14:06:03


National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
Contact: NCC News, 212-870-2252
Internet:; Web:



 WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 5 ---- A top National Council 
of Churches executive was arrested for civil disobedience 
today, following a rally to demand that U.S. Supreme Court 
Justices hire more minority law clerks.

 The Rev. Dr. Staccato Powell, NCC Deputy General 
Secretary for National Ministries, was among the about 20 
participants in the NAACP-sponsored rally, held in front of 
the U.S. Supreme Court, to disregard a warning not to cross 
a police line. "We wanted to deliver petitions to the 
Justices, primarily Chief Justice William Rehnquist," Dr. 
Powell said.

 He, NAACP President/CEO Kweisi Mfume and the others 
were arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail.  They were 
held for about 90 minutes before being formally charged, 
then were transported to court for arraignment, Dr. Powell 
reported by phone shortly before the arraignment.

 The rally addressed the finding (USA Today, 9/10/98) 
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; 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, who addressed the rally and offered the 
opening prayer.  "The sensitivity of the Court has to go up 
on this issue.  We'd be načve to expect a drastic change 
overnight, but I'd be very, very disappointed if I didn't 
see an increase in the number of minority law clerks over 
the next several years."

 This was Dr. Powell's first arrest.  "We got an 
opportunity while in jail to listen to `war stories' of 
those who'd been on that path before," he said.  "There are 
some causes that necessitate your putting yourself on the 
line to demonstrate your passion" - in this case, against 
"this kind of blatant racism."

 "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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