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New Jersey’s top court can claim bragging rights over the U.S. Supreme Court in racial diversity among law clerks. For the past two terms, black, Hispanic and Asian-American lawyers held five, or 22.7 percent, of the 22 clerkships at the state supreme court, compared with a 15 percent share at the U.S. high court. About the same percentage holds true throughout the state court system. Of the 461 total law clerks this term, 22.1 percent are minorities, the result of a long-running effort by the judiciary, say officials at the Administrative Office of the Courts. Among law clerks in the state court system as of October 2001, 10 percent were black, 6.5 percent are Asian-American and 5.6 percent are Hispanic. What’s more, the current crop of law clerks in state court is more diverse than the graduating classes of the state’s three law schools, in which minorities make up 19 percent, according to statistics kept by the AOC. In 2000, the most recent year for which numbers are available, minority graduates from Seton Hall University School of Law and Rutgers University’s law schools in Newark and Camden, 7.2 percent were black, 7.5 percent Asian-American and 4.3 percent Hispanic. “Overall, we have made excellent progress,” Chief Justice Deborah Poritz wrote in a memo last Oct. 9 to Superior Court and Tax Court judges. “I wish to thank those of you that have considered minority candidates for appointment as judicial law clerks and I encourage all of you to do the same. With your continued support, I am confident that the New Jersey Judiciary will continue to provide fair and equal opportunities for minorities to serve as judicial law clerks.” Racial diversity among law clerks became a hot issue after USA Todayreported in 1998 that fewer than 2 percent of the clerks hired by the justices were black. Members of Congress were prompted to question Supreme Court justices during a hearing on the high court’s budget. During the 2000-2001 term minority representation among clerks on the U.S. Supreme Court rose to 20 percent before falling to 15 percent this year. In New Jersey, the AOC says its goal is for judiciary employees to resemble the population of the state as a whole. “If you look at the chief justice’s various memos, she speaks in terms of fairness,” says Bobby Battle, the AOC’s chief of equal opportunity and affirmative action since 1992. “We want to have an organization which is representative of the communities we serve. Our whole effort is to ensure fairness.” Battle says New Jersey’s court diversity program is regarded as a model and he gets frequent requests to speak to court officials in other states about his program. He leads an annual program designed to encourage minorities to apply for clerkships in the state courts. His office holds seminars at the state’s three law schools in cooperation with minority student groups, bringing along judges, clerks and others who describe job requirements, working conditions and salaries. He also sends out recruiting materials to more than 1,000 organizations to help recruit minorities for state court jobs. Battle’s office also solicits resumes of potential law clerks that are distributed to state judges four times per year. Judges are alerted to the resumes of minority applicants by the blue paper they are printed on. “New Jersey was the first state in the country to have a committee on minority concerns that looked at every aspect of diversity in the courts,” says retired Justice Daniel O’Hern. The number of minority clerks hired by the justices remained steady at about four or five a year throughout his time on the bench from 1981 to 2000, he says, as former Chief Justice Robert Wilentz and former Administrative Director of the Courts Robert Lipscher were advocates of minority hiring. A careful choice of law clerks can make for more interesting discussions in chambers, according to retired Justice Stuart Pollock, an advocate of diversity in hiring whose clerks included one who used a wheelchair and another who was deaf. “I wanted people from different backgrounds, different law schools, different religious backgrounds. I wanted people who would bring something different to the chambers. You can be very much aware of issues, for instance, the concerns of the disabled, but having someone who has a disability [as a law clerk] increased that awareness. I had several clerks who were Orthodox Jews. Through them I learned a great deal about Orthodox Judaism,” Pollock says. Law clerks earn $46,000 a year in the Supreme Court, $42,000 in the Appellate Division, $38,500 working for assignment judges and $35,000 working for other Superior Court judges. Related chart: New Jersey Supreme Court Minority Clerks

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