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July 30, 2006

One of the interesting things about doing research, especially on the Internet, is that it can lead you to all kinds of weird stuff.  Last week I had a post about a concurring opinion by Judge Danny J. Boggs, the Chief Judge of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a recent death penalty case.  The opinion didn't have his full name, and I wanted to use that in the post, so I Googled "boggs judge 6th circuit."

Well, according to an article in the New Yorker five years ago that I stumbled across, it turns out that Judge Boggs has what can only be described as a unique method of winnowing out potential law clerks.  Eschewing an examination aimed at determining their legal skills, he gives applicants what he describes as a "general knowledge" test:  around 70 questions along the lines of, "Who gave the famous speech 'Ain't I a Woman?' " (Sojourner Truth); "What does the Herfindahl-Hirschman index measure?" (industry concentration); "Who killed (a) Duncan (b) McKinley (c) Cock Robin (d) Ron Goldman, and (e) Vaudeville?" (Macbeth, Czolgosz, the sparrow with the bow and arrow, OJ Simpson, movies), and "What is the world's largest city beginning with an O?"  (Osaka, Japan).

This has met with mixed reactions among the test-takers, with some describing it as "cool," and others dismissing it as irrelevant to the job.  "He might as well have assigned us a challenging home repair project," sniffed one lawyer who withdrew his application after seeing the quiz.  Even Boggs seems to acknowledge that it has limited value in gauging a potential law clerk's merits; the best score anyone ever got on the quiz was 75%, but that was by a 46-year-old lawyer who Boggs didn't hire because "he had terrible grades."

There was one side benefit, though.  No fewer than three of Boggs' law clerks went on to appear on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the ABC quiz show, and one of them won $250,000.  The show allowed contestants a "phone-a-friend lifeline" -- someone they could call if they got stuck for an answer.  Two of the three picked Boggs.  He himself was stumped by the question, "how many actors passed through the Three Stooges comedy trio?"

Oh, by the way, just in case you're considering applying for a job as a clerk for a federal judge, the answer is "six."

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