WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court's nine members, defending themselves against critics who say they don't hire enough minorities and women as law clerks, have rejected calls for a "dialogue" with minority bar groups.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist told three black members of Congress in a recent letter it would be "inappropriate for any justice to seek guidance from special constituencies."Rehnquist attached a copy of his letter to the three congressmen in responding to NAACP President Kweisi Mfume's request for a meeting to discuss the hiring issue. The Associated Press obtained copies of each letter, the highest court's first public utterances on the subject.

USA Today reported earlier this year that blacks comprise less than 2 percent of the 428 law clerks hired by the court's current nine justices during their tenures, and that less than 25 percent of the clerks have been women.

There are no statistics on how many minority or female applicants have been turned down.

Each justice hires three or four recent law school graduates each year to help with screening new cases and researching and drafting opinions. The one-year jobs are prizes for young lawyers, most often leading to high-paying posts in law firms or law schools.

Mfume has been the most vocal critic of the court's hiring. He was among 18 people arrested in October for carrying a protest demonstration onto court property.

In a statement Monday, he said the justices have "institutionalized" a selection process for law clerks "that renders diversity virtually impossible."

Rehnquist responded, "Each of us is satisfied that no person is excluded from consideration for a clerkship because of race, religion, gender, nationality or for any other impermissible reason."

"We select as clerks those who have strong academic backgrounds and have had previously successful law clerk experience," Rehnquist wrote. "As the demographic makeup of this pool changes, it seems entirely likely that the underrepresentation of minorities . . . will also change."