Rehnquist: Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

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What's the nation's most secretive agency? Not the CIA -- it's the Supreme Court of the United States. Three members of Congress became the latest to discover this fact when they requested that the Justices talk with minority bar associations to explain why so few blacks have been hired as law clerks or personal aides to the Justices. By one count, less than 2 percent of clerks hired during the Justices' combined tenures have been black. Chief Justice William Rehnquist's response on Monday was classic: "[It would] be inappropriate for any Justice to seek guidance from special constituencies."

"The response was not surprising," says TIME writer Adam Cohen, "because the court has traditionally been very protective of its internal policies." For example, he notes, cameras are still not permitted in the Supreme Court courtroom. There may also have been a substantive edge to Rehnquist's response. "The Chief Justice," says Cohen, "has not been very receptive in his court opinions to race-based analyses of employment." Still Rehnquist sought to keep the door open slightly, indicating in his response that the Justices would be pleased to receive "recommendations and comments" from members of the bar regarding specific applicants. So Congressmen and bar groups, keep those cards and letters coming.