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May. 10 2010 - 4:30 pm | 173 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Ivy League nepotism and the Supreme Court

Jamelle Bouie identifies a problem with the current make-up of the Court:

The overrepresentation of Ivy League graduates on the Supreme Court (and on appellate courts) has little to do with ability and everything to do with personal and institutional relationships.  Great legal minds aren’t exclusive to Harvard and Yale, and I think we’re doing ourselves a real disservice by restricting our “nomination pool” to the usual group of elite East Coast law schools.  Even if the Court is otherwise diverse, justices from extremely similar educational backgrounds will carry similar habits of mind and similar ways of seeing the world.  A justice from outside the Ivy League might see the legal landscape in ways significantly different from her peers, might find different cases compelling, and might take a different approach to legal reasoning.

In any case, as long as powerful politicians continue receive their educations from the Northeast corridor, it’s likely that the Ivy League will continue to dominate high court nominations.  Hopefully though, some future president will find it worthwhile to reach out to talented justices from outside the 223 mile stretch between Harlem and Cambridge.

I think this is right on the money. Too often we think in purely ‘conservative vs. liberal’ terms, and don’t take into account things like educational background. This is just one of many unfortunate side-effects of our current obsessions with political dualism.


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  1. collapse expand

    Absolutely right. As a loyal West Coast extremist, this news makes me want to dress up in Gaucho clothing and have a “Chai” Party.
    I can understand why many people like Sarah Palin – she didn’t attend an elite university, she comes from as far West as you can get without hula skirts, you get the impression she’d be more comfortable with a plumber than a professor. When even Stanford grads don’t stand a chance, she gives us “Westies” hope. Unfortunately, I don’t agree with a thing she stands for, but I appreciate her roots.

  2. collapse expand

    I am of the opinion that the Supreme Court is setting itself up for a legal challenge, as to whether or not they are engaging in discrimination, by limiting the Court to Ivy League Graduates.

    The following applies to Kagan, just as it did to Sotomajor.

    This editorial was created by 160 Associated Press readers under a Creative Commons Share-Alike Attribution License 3.0 using MixedInk’s collaborative writing tool. For more about how it was created, see here. It can be republished only if accompanied by this note.

    Obamas Appointment of Sotomayor Fails to Offer Educational Diversity to Court.

    Sotomayor does not offer true diversity to our Supreme Court. The potential power of Sotomayor’s diversity as a Latina Woman, from a disadvantaged background, loses its strength because her Yale Law degree does not offer educational diversity to the current mix of sitting Judges. Once she walked through the Gates of Princeton and then Yale Law School she became educated by the same Professors that have educated the majority of our current Supreme Court Justices, and our Presidents.

    Diversity in education is extremely important. We need to look for diversity in our ideas, and if our leaders are from the same educational background, they lose the original power of their ethnic and gender diversity. The ethnic and gender diversity many of our current leaders possess no longer brings a plethora of new ideas, only the same perspective they learned from their common Ivy League education. One example of the common education problem is that Yale has been heavily influenced by a former lecturer at Yale, Judge Frank, who developed the philosophy of Legal Realism. Frank argued that Judges should not only look at the original intent of the Constitution, but they should also bring in outside influences, including their own experiences in order to determine the law. This negative interpretation has influenced both Conservatives and Liberals graduating from Yale. It has been said that Legal Realism has infested Yale Law School and turned lawyers into political activists.

    A generation of appointees with either a Harvard or Yale background, has the potential to distort the proper interpretation of our Constitution. America needs to decentralize the power structure away from the Ivy League educated individual and gain from the knowledgeable and diverse perspectives that people from other institutions can provide. We should appoint Supreme Court Justices educated from amongst a wider group of Americas Universities.

    Harvard -

    Chief Justice John Roberts
    Anthony Kennedy
    Antonin Scalia
    Stephen Breyer
    Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Harvard, Columbia)

    Yale

    Samuel Alito – Yale JD 1975
    David Souter
    Clarence Thomas – Yale JD 1974
    Sonia Sotomayor – Yale JD 1979

    Northwestern Law School.
    Justice John Paul Stevens

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