One of the recurring story lines of the current U.S. Supreme Court is the increasing influence and prestige of the law clerks the justices hire to help screen incoming petitions and write opinions. It’s not just the hiring bonuses of $350,000 that they can command when they leave— nearly $100,000 more than the justices’ annual salaries. It’s also the career doors that a clerkship opens in private practice, corporations, academia and government.
So we decided to take a deeper look at the clerks—who they are, demographically, how they get there, and what they do when they leave. NLJ’s Supreme Court correspondent Tony Mauro had researched the subject in 1998 at USA TODAY, when the clerk hiring bonuses were a measly $50,000. Clearly, the data needed updating.
The court does not keep or release demographic data about clerks, and the justices did not want to talk about it. So we researched all the clerks of the Roberts Court era, examining public information about each, as well as making direct or indirect inquiries aimed at how the clerks self-identified in terms of race or ethnicity. We were not able to reach all, but tried our best to achieve maximum accuracy. A note about the classifications: We used the categories adopted by the federal government to to collect data on race and ethnicity, and included those who had one non-white parent as minorities.
You’ll notice that we present our findings through two lenses— 1) analyzing the 487 law clerks who have been hired by the Supreme Court since 2005 to give a broad snapshot of 13 years of law clerks and 2) examining the smaller pools of clerks who have worked for a current justice to give a closer view of each justice’s hiring patterns. We recognize there are measures of diversity that are not explored in this study—for instance, religious, sexual orientation, disability and regional background. By focusing on gender and race/ethnicity we don’t mean to disregard other aspects of each clerk’s experience that influence the perspective they bring to the court.
If you have comments on our reporting or information that would improve this study, please contact Supreme Court correspondent Tony Mauro at firstname.lastname@example.org or Senior Editor Vanessa Blum at email@example.com.