Yale Law School is punching above its weight in terms of the number of students who clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court, but a push to improve diversity at the university reflects a stubborn national trend: clerks are still disproportionately white men.
Diversity has improved at Yale, with 53 percent of the class of 2020 being female, and 48 percent being students of color. Still, 86 percent of Yale’s Supreme Court clerks since 2005, or 102, have been white men. Among all colleges, Yale is second in the number of clerks sent since 2005, with 119. That’s four fewer than Harvard University, which is three times bigger.
The figures underscore the importance of the northeast in general, with the Second Circuit, including Connecticut, being the third-greatest feeder for Supreme Court clerks. The Second Circuit is eclipsed only by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the Ninth Circuit.
Of the 487 clerks sent to the high court in nearly the past 13 years, 60 had prior clerkships with the Second Circuit. Second Circuit Judge Robert Katzmann is one of the court’s top feeder judges. He has sent 23 clerks to the high court since 2005. Other Second Circuit court feeders include Judge Guido Calabresi, who has sent 12 clerks, and Judge Jose Cabranes, who has sent five.
Overall, roughly 85 percent of all U.S. Supreme Court clerks have been white, according to research conducted by the National Law Journal. At Yale, male clerks outnumber females 2-1, even as women make up a majority of law students.
The Supreme Court does not maintain or release any demographic data about clerks, and all nine justices declined to be interviewed about diversity.
Heather Gerken, dean of Yale Law School and a former clerk to Justice David Souter, said the school has worked hard during the past two years to recruit more students of color. “We went from a steady state of 32, 33 percent students of color to this year where we have 48 percent students of color,” she said. “That’s because we did a better job of inviting them to apply, and recruiting them once they apply.”
Kelly Voight, assistant dean of the Career Development Office at Yale, said that while the school encourages minorities and women to apply for clerkships, the final decision is ultimately up to the justices. “While we have no control over which candidates justices select for these highly coveted spots, we applaud efforts to shed light on this important conversation,” she said.
Yale University graduate Claire Howard, chairwoman of the Judicial Diversity Committee of the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association said students of color need encouragement to apply. “There is a pathway in having recommendations from professors,” she said.” I do think there has to be extra encouragement for women and minorities to apply in general.”
“It’s an incredibly competitive process,” Howard added, “and you have to plan early on as a law student. It has to be in that first year.”