The federal courts made no progress last year in their push to bring more diversity to the ranks of judicial law clerks, according to the latest statistics released May 2 by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
The percentage of clerks who identified as African-American and Hispanic basically remained steady for the fiscal year that ended in June, despite judges saying there is room for improvement and a pilot internship program started last summer to bring minority law students into federal judges’ chambers.
But the statistics still show a decline from five years ago in the number of minority clerks, a trend that led Congress to request the up-to-date statistics from the AO, which declined through a spokesman to comment on the new numbers.
The decrease for African-American clerks between fiscal years 2006 and 2010 was most pronounced, with a decline from 3.5 percent of appellate level clerks in 2006 to 2.4 percent in 2010, the new report states. The number of Hispanic appellate level clerks dropped from 3.1 percent to 2 percent during the same period.
At the district court level, the percentage of African-American clerks declined from 3.5 percent to 3.2 percent, while Hispanic clerks remained steady at 3.3 percent.
This latest breakdown of law clerks by race shows African-Americans fill fewer of those spots now than they did in 2000. The issue of diversity among law clerks first gained national attention in 1998, with reports in USA Today and Legal Times (now merged with The National Law Journal) about the lack of diversity among law clerks at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Members of Congress have grilled justices about their hiring practices ever since, but the Court has declined to tally or disclose the ethnic make-up of its clerks. The low numbers have triggered protests from minority bar and civil rights leaders. Legislators who oversee federal court budgets have inquired about it since.
Julia Gibbons, the chairwoman of the U.S. Judicial Conference’s budget committee, told Congress at a budget hearing in March that they hope efforts to diversify the clerks pay off soon. “We recognize the deficiencies in our results today. And we’ll keep plugging at it.”
Judges have long said recruiting minority attorneys is difficult. Missed educational opportunities put fewer minorities in the pipeline of applicants, and good candidates often have law school debt to repay — and big firms enticing them with far heftier salaries to offer. What’s more, judges can get overwhelmed with hundreds of applications, and often depend on recommendations from previous clerks or law school professors they know, many times freezing out applicants who may be equally qualified but come from schools with less-accomplished alumni.
Contact Todd Ruger at email@example.com.