U.S. Supreme Court

Justice Scalia Tells Law Student Why She Probably Won’t Be His Law Clerk


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was his usual blunt self last month when he responded to a law student’s question on how to become “outrageously successful” despite a lack of connections and elite degrees.

At first, Scalia gave the American University law student some general advice, the New York Times reports. “Just work hard and be very good,” Scalia said.

Then he went on to talk about the student’s chances of obtaining a clerkship with a Supreme Court justice, the story recounts. Her school is ranked 45th in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

“By and large,” Scalia said during the April 24 law school appearance, “I’m going to be picking from the law schools that basically are the hardest to get into. They admit the best and the brightest, and they may not teach very well, but you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse. If they come in the best and the brightest, they’re probably going to leave the best and the brightest, OK?”

The story says the data support Scalia’s comment. In the last six years, about half of the Supreme Court’s 220 law clerks attended Yale or Harvard law schools, respectively ranked first and second by U.S. News. About 50 others came from Chicago, Stanford, Virginia and Columbia. None hailed from American University’s Washington College of Law.

Scalia acknowledged there are some exceptions, citing the case of Jeffrey Sutton, now a federal appeals judge on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati, according to the Times account. Sutton was first hired by Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., and then worked for Scalia.

“I wouldn’t have hired Jeff Sutton,” Scalia said. “For God’s sake, he went Ohio State! And he’s one of the very best law clerks I ever had.”

The Times story contrasts the low-key approach of retiring Justice David H. Souter with Scalia’s penchant for colorful comments. “In the last couple of weeks, Justice Scalia has explained to a law student why she will probably never serve as a law clerk on the Supreme Court, had an interesting tussle with Justice John Paul Stevens and cited foreign law to boot. May he never retire,” the story says.

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