Supreme opportunities Few nonwhites: No excuses, justices should meet same standards as other employers.

December 20, 1998

BEFORE the justices of the Supreme Court again try to excuse their failure to hire more minority clerks, they should think of early civil rights cases in which defendants similarly argued that they could not find qualified nonwhites because the job pool was overwhelmingly white.

Fortunately, the court has rejected such contentions in the past, while allowing to stand a few proposals to remedy discrimination.

Now that circumstances have turned history around, the court finds itself the target of pressure to integrate its staff of clerks.

And it is disappointing to see the justices appear as defensive as the accused who have appeared before the high court.

In refusing to even discuss the matter with experts -- a must in job discrimination cases -- Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who said he spoke for the entire court, snubs accepted procedure for resolving such disputes.

As leader of the court, the chief justice should influence the others to do more than make excuses. After all, the essence of decision making by the justices is to influence each other.

Mr. Rehnquist's refusal to exert influence on this matter validates the weak excuses for inaction offered by other justices. One, for example, was that they wish to maintain their independence.

Clerks are extremely important to the work of the justices. The smart, young attorneys screen cases, research the law, prepare material for arguments, draft and edit opinions and discuss cases with the justices.

After clerkships, they go on to major law firms and other prosperous careers. Many end up on the bench. The justices abdicate their responsibility by ignoring such a serious racial hiring gap. Business as usual is unacceptable.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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