Perhaps to avoid the snowpocalypse in D.C., Justice Clarence Thomas went down to the Sunshine State this week, where he spent time speaking with law students at Stetson University and the University of Florida.
Though he’s the sphinx of the High Court, Justice Thomas is loquacious when not in oral arguments. He’s an engaging speaker: personable, genuine, funny.
Though we cringed watching video from his Thursday talk at the University of Florida. He talked about the elitism in SCOTUS clerk hiring and complained about “smart bloggers” — or “self-proclaimed smart bloggers” — labeling his clerks “TTT” last year. “That’s the attitude that you’re up against,” he told the UF law students.
We hope that comment was not inspired by these pages. In 2008, CT’s law clerks came from George Mason, Rutgers, George Washington, and Creighton law schools. If there were any “TTT” references to them here, they were in the comments section and did not come from our “smart” mouths, er, fingers. (Reader comments should not be confused with ATL editorial comment; this is why we hide the comments, for your protection.)
More thoughts from Justice Thomas on clerk hiring, paying off his student loan debt, and law firm layoffs, after the jump.
A UF student asked about the Ivy League bias in hiring Supreme Court clerks — a practice that Justice Thomas’s conservative colleague, Justice Antonin Scalia, has publicly defended. CT responded:
People like their comfort zone, and we have allowed qualifications to be defined by where you go to school…
Eight of the nine of us [justices] are from the Ivy leagues, so it’s natural that you go back to the Ivy Leagues… I don’t believe they have a monopoly on intelligence. I also don’t believe they have a monopoly on the best kids to clerk…
I don’t even think that all of us on the Court should be from the Ivy leagues and from just one part of the country. I have a preference actually for non-Ivy league law clerks, simply because I think clerks should come from a wide range of backgrounds. And I don’t have that pedigree. I’m not a part of this new or faux nobility…
Last time we checked, Thomas was a Yale Law School graduate. But he used this opportunity to talk about his upbringing in Georgia for a bit:
I think there are smart kids a lot of places. My clerks last year were from George Mason, Rutgers, George Washington, and Creighton. My clerks this year are from Harvard, Yale, Utah, and Notre Dame. And they’re really bright kids, but there is a bias. If you look at smart bloggers — or self-proclaimed smart bloggers — they referred to my clerks last year as TTT — ‘third tier trash.’ That’s the attitude that you’re up against.
This year marked the first time SCOTUS has used the word “blog” in an opinion. Thomas’s utterance of the term “TTT” on the record must also be some kind of first (although he appears to have erred regarding what it stands for; it is generally regarded as an acronym for “third-tier toilet,” not “third-tier trash”).
As we mentioned before the jump, your Above the Law editors have never referred to his clerks as TTT. Has Justice Thomas been reading AutoAdmit?
They were absolutely bright, wonderful law clerks and they did an outstanding job… As far as the kids I select, the rule is that you select from right near the top of the class. Because we run pretty hard and you have to have horsepower and you have to be ready. I also look for kids who are self-starters… We have a meeting of the minds early so that everyone understands… I have zero tolerance for mistakes, tardiness or excuses. There is no learning curve. You have to hit the ground running.
You could feel the excitement in the air as the University of Florida students collectively dreamed of a Gator gunner one day showing up for work at One First Street.
Thomas also spent some time addressing two topics near and dear to our readers’ hearts: student debt and law firm layoffs. CT revealed that he didn’t manage to pay off his student loans until his third term on the Court, and only then because his “wife accelerated it — she was tired of these payments to Yale.”
(It likely didn’t help that Thomas never drew in a Biglaw salary. Beyond a few years in-house at the Monsanto company, he has spent his whole career on the government payroll. Of course, these days CT is sitting pretty — not just because of a life-tenured job with a six-figure income, but also thanks to a bestselling, super-lucrative memoir.)
One UF student asked Thomas for advice given the difficult job market out there for law grads right now. He responded:
Oh goodness. I don’t know.
I’m one of those kids who couldn’t get a job out of law school. I had a stack of rejection letters. That’s why I did not wind up in Georgia. I wound up in Jefferson City, Missouri. [Ed. note: He was appointed an assistant attorney general in Missouri after graduating from Yale in 1974.] And that started me on the path to the Supreme Court. Otherwise I’d be a tax lawyer in Georgia.
I really don’t have an answer. I came out of school in a big recession and found it extremely difficult…. What I would say to you is persevere, don’t quit.
You never know where you’ll end up, but a law degree from Yale is certainly a nice lifesaver to have in the dead sea of a recession.
The only time Thomas showed signs of going back into sphinx mode was when a student at Stetson asked about the Citizens United decision on Tuesday:
The opinions speak for themselves… I’m not going to reargue that. People have their own opinion. My job is not to argue about their opinion. It is to write opinions and to decide cases.
In other words, he’s the decider.
P.S. If you have information about Supreme Court law clerk hiring that we have not yet reported — our last clerk hiring round-up appeared here — please email us (subject line: “SCOTUS clerk hiring”). Thanks!
A Conversation with Associate Justice [University of Florida]
Clarence Thomas: State of the Union Too Partisan for a Justice [CBS News]
Audio: Clarence Thomas Defends Supreme Courts Campaign Finance Decision [YouTube]
LiveBlog: Justice Thomas Speaks Live at University of Florida [Josh Blackman's Blog]
Justice Thomas, On the Road Again [BLT]
Justice Thomas Visits Stetson Law [Stetson Law]