A Demographic Profile of Judicial Clerks — Patterns of Disproportionality

NALP Bulletin, November 2010

Judicial clerkships have never been obtained in proportion to the demographics of the graduating class. That is to say, judicial clerkships have always been obtained disproportionately when measured by race and gender, though the patterns have not necessarily been obvious. Over the last ten years the overall number of judicial clerkships obtained by law school graduates has decreased significantly, and over this same time, the proportional demographic representation of those obtaining clerkships has shifted. While minority representation in general has increased slightly, the representation of African-American/Black men in particular has eroded significantly.

The proportion of women in the Class of 2009 obtaining judicial clerkships exceeded their representation in the class as a whole, whereas the opposite was true of minorities. Thus women made up not quite half of the graduating class (46%) and obtained just over half of the clerkships. Minorities accounted for 22% of the class but obtained just 16% of the clerkships. And when clerkships are further distinguished by level of court, the only group maintaining proportionality were women among federal clerks, where the percentage of clerkships obtained by women is very close to their representation in the class as a whole.

Further detail by gender and race/ethnicity together reveals that, at the federal level, almost half of clerkships were obtained by white men, whereas at the state and local levels about 40% of clerkships were obtained by white men. Among specific racial/ethnic minority groups, women outnumber men at every court level. This is particularly evident at the state and local levels and especially among African-American/Black graduates. Among white women, this is true at the state and local levels.

How do these findings for the Class of 2009 compare with those of ten years ago for the Class of 1999? The picture is mixed. On the one hand, women have maintained their somewhat disproportionate share of clerkships in general, at about half, and of federal clerkships specifically, at about 46%. Minorities as a whole have increased their share of clerkships a bit, from 15% to just over 16%. Hispanic and Asian graduates have generally held their own. On the other hand, women as a whole continue to hold more than half of state and local clerkships, and although the almost 9 percentage point differential between men and women at the local level is about half what it was in 1999, the difference has increased at the state level, from about 4 percentage points to almost 10 percentage points.

The picture for African-American/Blacks is decidedly mixed. Women have maintained and even increased their share of clerkships, from about 3.6% to 4.4%, but the mix has shifted away from the federal level and toward the state level. For men, federal and state percentages are about half of what they were in 1999. Keeping in mind that the number of clerkships has decreased by hundreds since 1999, this means, for example, that the number of clerkships obtained by African-American/Black men in 2009 was less than 30, compared with over 70 in 1999. At the federal level, the numbers have fallen to 8 from 25. African-American/Black women obtained about 125 clerkships in each year; at the federal level the numbers in 2009 and 1999 were 28 and 46, respectively. In fact, the erosion in clerkships among black men has happened very recently. In 2007 and 2008, patterns for this particular group more closely resembled that of 1999 than 2009.

Demographic Profile of Judicial Clerkships Taken by the Class of 2009

Percent of Clerkships Obtained By: All Clerkships Federal Clerkships State Clerkships Local Clerkships
Men 49.0% 54.3% 45.2% 45.7%
Women 51.0 45.6 54.8 54.3
Minorities 16.1 13.9 17.6 15.4
Non-minorities 83.9 86.1 82.4 84.6
White men 42.9 48.4 39.5 40.2
White women 41.0 37.6 42.9 44.4
African American/Black men 1.0 0.8 1.1 1.0
African American/Black women 4.4 2.7 5.1 6.3
Hispanic men 1.6 1.7 1.7 1.4
Hispanic women 2.1 2.0 2.3 1.4
Asian men 2.1 2.3 2.4 0.7
Asian women 3.4 3.5 3.2 4.2
Total number of clerkships reported* 3,125 1,168 1,603 315

*Counts include all clerkships, including those for which demographic information was not reported. All percentages are based on clerkships for which the appropriate demographic information was reported.

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