From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Protesters criticize Supreme Court hiring of law clerks

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 08 Oct 1998 14:51:49

Oct. 8, 1998        Contact: Tim Tanton*(615)742-5470*Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE:  A photograph is available with this story. 

By Shanta M. Bryant*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - United Methodist officials joined 1,000 protesters
in a demonstration at the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 5 to condemn the
sitting justices' hiring record of minorities to clerkships.

Several protesters, including Kweisi Mfume, president of the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), were arrested
for crossing a police barricade in a symbolic, nonviolent  act of civil
disobedience. Mfume and others were attempting to present the justices
with a stack of resumes of potential minority law clerks. 

For this court term, the Supreme Court hired only one minority as a
court clerk-- a Hispanic
woman -- out of 34 positions. This marks the second year in a row that
the nine sitting justices have not hired any African Americans as
clerks, according to the NAACP, which organized the demonstration on the
court's opening day. 

In total, the current Supreme Court justices have hired seven African
Americans out of  428
clerks, or less than 2 percent. Four percent of the clerks have been
Asian, 1 percent have been Latino, and none has been Native American.
One-fourth of the clerks have been women.

Thom White Wolf Fassett, general secretary of the United Methodist Board
of Church and Society and a participant in the demonstration, said the
U.S. Supreme Court is no longer a court of democracy. 

"The selection process (of reviewing Supreme Court cases) has never
included ethnic
minority concerns and currently caters to the interests of the majority
culture and economic
interests of 1 percent of the U.S. population," Fassett said.

The demonstration involved representatives from the National Bar
Association, the Hispanic
National Bar Association, the National Asian Pacific American Bar
Association and the Native
American Bar Association.

Since law clerks influence the cases heard and the opinions written by
the Supreme Court, protesters said minority groups in the United States
want the opportunity to advance their agendas.
Several religious liberty issues, particularly concerning Native
Americans, have been defeated, because Native Americans are not part of
the decision-making process, Fassett said.
Since court decisions are interpreted from a European American
perspective, the voices of people of color are missing, said Constance
Barnes, an executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and
Race and one of the protesters.

"The protest was long overdue," Barnes said. "We trust that the court
will be a mirror of society. 
We trust that they will honor diversity, and then you find out they have
betrayed us."

NAACP President Mfume said the fact that the sitting justices do not
practice equal
opportunity exposes "a great deal of hypocrisy."  

"By not hiring more people of color, the Supreme Court is reducing
opportunities and increasing the pain index for minorities," he said. 

Nancy Choy of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association called
for the Supreme
Court to have more open hiring procedures. The court, she insisted, must
change its "old boy network" of hiring because it does not provide for
equal opportunities. The current hiring procedures are based on "who you
know," instead of qualifications, she said.

A recent survey showed that nearly 40 percent of  Supreme Court clerks
are from Harvard and Yale law schools. Currently, people of color
represent almost 20 percent of U.S. graduating law school classes.   

Following a clerkship with the Supreme Court, many clerks have continued
to work in high
positions in the U.S. government and the private sector. 

# # #

*Bryant is program director of communications for the United Methodist
Board of Church and Society and associate editor of the agency's
magazine, Christian Social Action.

United Methodist News Service
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