Yale and Harvard at the Supreme Court
Assuming President Obama wins confirmation of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, that august body will be exclusively filled with judges who earned their law degrees at Harvard or Yale.
That seems somewhat remarkable given that there are more than 1 million lawyers in the United States and 200 law schools approved by the American Bar Association (seven of them are provisionally approved).
Should we care?
Jonathan Turley, a law scholar at George Washington University, does, according to this story from the McClatchy Newspapers.
“You’re voiding a wide array of interesting and potentially brilliant nominees,” he was quoted as saying. “It’s like insisting you’re only going to read books by two authors."
He further said, “You’re taking justices from the same small educational pools, and those justices are reinforcing that same limited population pool in the selection of their clerks. There are certain dangers in small population pools. They tend to replicate the same types of thinking.”
Sheldon Goldman, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and an expert on the federal judiciary, disagrees in the article
"One would expect the top legal minds of the country to have gone to the very best law schools," Goldman was quoted in the article as saying. It is, he said, “somewhat of a coincidence” that all of the justices besides the retiring John Paul Stevens, who went to Northwestern Law School, went to Harvard of Yale, as did Kagan.
"I can’t buy that a Harvard or a Yale is so parochial that the people coming out have a narrow vision," he said. "If that were the case, we wouldn’t have such a sharply polarized Supreme Court."
Well, yes, that’s a point: The court is polarized. There is more than one view of the Constitution at these school.
But that may not be THE point. Perhaps this Harvard/Yale club at the Supreme Court is that, in fact, it is not such a coincidence.
This is a country where status is not supposed to matter but does anyway, and there is no denying that Harvard, and then, Yale, have the most in higher education.
That is not to say that they are actually “better” than other schools; certainly there a number of law schools that offer equally wonderful educations. But among the elite, Harvard and Yale are somehow more elite in the public consciousness. (It reminds me a little of that old song kids used to sing when they played with a jump rope: “I’ve been to London, I’ve been to Dover, I’ve traveled the whole world over.” )
That elite status carries with it an assumption -- at least among some -- that graduates of these schools are generally smarter than everybody else. That's not true, but it doesn't stop people from giving Yale and Harvard graduates an intellectual pass.
When we tell young people that it doesn’t really matter where they go to college, and that the same opportunities abound for anybody willing to work hard enough, and then they see who gets nominated to the Supreme Court, they know that it isn't necessary so.
Yes, there are studies that show that many graduates of non-Ivy League schools do equally well in terms of career and salary. But for some jobs, in America today, like a job on the Supreme Court, Harvard and Yale rule.
And that's too bad. Because its never a good idea in a country that prides itself on diversity to have none when it comes to legal education on the most important court in the land.
Do you care? Why or why not?
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| May 10, 2010; 2:55 PM ET
Tags: Harvard and Yale and supreme court, Ivy League and Supreme Court, Kagan and Harvard, Supreme Court justices and Harvard, Supreme Court nomination, elite and law school, justices who went to harvard
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