The legal profession has no higher prize—at least early on—than a Supreme Court clerkship.
Squeezing into that spot is phenomenally hard. SCOTUS recruits clerks almost exclusively from Yale, Harvard, Stanford and no more than a dozen other law schools. And even within those top schools, you've got to be at the top, academically.
So it was interesting to read that Justice Clarence Thomas ignores that and recruits graduates of what Above the Law commenters refer to as "TTT" or "third-tier toilet" schools.
Referring to the U.S. News & World Report rankings, he said
"I think the obsession is somewhat perverse. I never look at those rankings. I don't even know where they are.... "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?"[ Justice Thomas criticizes law school rankings, by Brendan Farrington, Associated Press, September 21, 2012]
I first observe that Justice Thomas is slightly wrong: if I'm to square up to the understanding we have about intelligence, I'm forced to admit that yes, a Yale law student is likely to be smarter than a George Mason student. Getting into a prestige law school requires a high LSAT score. The test is a good indicator of general intelligence. And for Yale, you need a near-perfect score. George Mason, not so much.
Smart kids aren't evenly distributed throughout the population. The sharecropper's child (do they really have sharecroppers in 2012?) is not just as likely to be as smart as the son of two Asian plastic surgeons in New Jersey (that's not a random bio—it's that of David Lat, overseer of Above the Law).
Nor are they evenly distributed among the races.
But I second observe that hey, I like Justice Thomas' willingness to buck the usual trend. As a graduate of a school ranked, let's say, between No. 60 and No. 70, I've chafed at the unbending snobbery of the legal profession—a rich hypocrisy given its liberalism.
And as a white partisan, I think the approach of Thomas (who is, yes, a beneficiary of a unique form of affirmative action, reserved for "black and conservative") might even benefit flyover whites, if he's going with top performers at Creighton.
The System, of course, will take care of this slight breach of security by excluding Thomas clerks from the inner circles of power.