In early 2010, we reported that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told law students at the University of Florida that he was displeased when he found out that his October Term 2008 clerks — who hailed from George Mason, Rutgers, George Washington, and Creighton law schools — were being referred to as “TTT” by the internet’s “self-proclaimed smart bloggers.” (And just as we did in 2010, we’ll again remind our readers that such a label didn’t come from Above the Law editors; we adore SCOTUS clerks, no matter their alma mater.)
On Friday, Justice Thomas again spoke to students at UF Law, and reiterated his prior thoughts on Ivy League bias in the hiring of The Elect. Though Thomas is a graduate of Yale Law School himself, he’s an equal opportunity justice in that he much prefers to choose his clerks from the ranks of the non-Ivies.
Let’s check out some additional thoughts from Justice Thomas on clerkship hiring, how he’d like his epitaph to be worded, and the most important decision the court has made since he was sworn in….
Even though Thomas currently serves as the Supreme Court’s sphinx (he hasn’t said a word during oral arguments in almost seven years), he’s extremely vocal when it comes to bias against lower-tier schools:
“Isn’t that the antithesis of what this country is supposed to be about? Isn’t that the bias that we fought about on racial terms, or on terms of sex, or on terms of religion, et cetera? My new bias, which I now embrace, is that I don’t eliminate the Ivies in hiring, but I intentionally prefer kids from regular backgrounds and regular students.”
Amid the ruckus that’s been brought about by the so-called law school scam, Thomas actually offers a rather refreshing opinion: contrary to popular belief, just because you didn’t go to top 14 law school doesn’t mean you’re doomed to an unsuccessful legal career. If you attend a lower-ranked school, keep on gunning, because Thomas may yet have room for you in his clerkship roster.
In fact, Thomas thinks that our nation’s “obsession” with the U.S. News rankings is “somewhat perverse”:
“I never look at those rankings. I don’t even know where they are. I thought U.S. News and World Report was out of business. There are smart kids every place. They are male, they are female, they are black, they’re white, they’re from the West, they’re from the South, they’re from public schools, they’re from public universities, they’re from poor families, they’re from sharecroppers, they’re from all over. … I look at the kid who shows up. Is this a kid that could work for me?”
Thomas then mused that our unhealthy fascination with rankings, paired with Ivy League hiring bias among Supreme Court justices, had essentially created different echelons of “nobility” within the law — and that’s not something that sits well with him. “I don’t do that,” he noted. “I think it would be a violation of everything I believe in to do something like that. And I don’t think it’s good for us as a profession.”
As an aside, it warms this self-proclaimed smart blogger’s heart that a Supreme Court justice is willing to go to bat for those of us who aren’t wrapped in Ivy. If your goal is to show up to work at One First Street, keep it, because it may come to fruition in the future thanks to Justice Clarence Thomas.
Thomas also spent some time addressing a question about what he wanted his legacy to be, and instead of giving the audience an academic monologue, he instead chose to employ his sense of humor:
“I told my clerks that when they do my epitaph it should be something like, ‘He did his job and he died.’ My legacy — I’m going to be dead. I mean, I’m not going to be here to read the legacy. So I just do my job. I don’t think that much about it.”
(Because when you’ve already got a bestselling memoir (affiliate link) that’s been described as “provocative, inspiring, and unflinchingly honest,” does your epitaph really need to say more? Just read the book.)
The only time Thomas clammed up was when a University of Florida law student asked the justice what he thought was the most important decision the court had during his tenure on the bench. His response:
“I don’t know.”
There’s the justice that we all know and love: silent when it comes to the law, but quite loquacious when it comes to what he views as discrimination. The last piece of advice that Justice Thomas gave students before concluding? “Please don’t buy into this notion that somehow you’re excluded because of where you are in life.”
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!
Justice Thomas criticizes law school rankings [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
Clarence Thomas: Ivy-Leaguers no better than UF law students [Ocala Star-Banner]