By way of comparison, the Supreme Court in 1980 counted three Harvard Law graduates, two Yale Law graduates, and one graduate each of law schools at St. Paul College, Northwestern University, Howard University, and Stanford. Go back further and many more institutions are represented.
Why is today’s tally objectionable?
One needn’t doubt the value that an Ivy League–educated jurist can bring to the bench to see that diminishing marginal returns are upon us, even as the gains from diversity of educational background go untapped.
As Jonathan Turley wrote during the Gorsuch nomination fight, “When you virtually exclude all but two of the nation’s 160 law schools as sources for justices, it not only reduces the number of outstanding candidates but guarantees a certain insularity in training and influences on the court. This bias is not only elitist but decidedly anti-intellectual.”
He made a similar argument after President Barack Obama put jurists from Harvard and Yale on the court:
There is no objective basis for favoring these two schools. Annual rankings from law schools on publication or reputation or student scores show relatively small differences in the top law schools. The actual scores of the small pool of students in the top tier vary by only a few points. While Harvard and Yale are routinely ranked in the top spots, the faculties and student bodies are not viewed as manifestly superior to such competitors as Stanford, Chicago, Michigan or other top schools …
The favoritism shown Harvard and Yale should be viewed not just as incestuous but as scandalous. It undermines educational institutions across the country by maintaining a clearly arbitrary and capricious basis for selection. It also runs against the grain of a nation based on meritocracy and opportunity. If there is one place in the world that should be free of such baseless bias, it is the Supreme Court of the United States.
Among the consequences: a high court where every sitting justice has spent his or her entire professional career seeing the American legal system through the lens of someone with numerous personal, social, and institutional connections to the country’s most powerful, well-connected elites.
A new jurist might have added a contrasting perspective.
But Kavanaugh has never known a time without such connections, even counting his youth before law school. The son of a judge and a lobbyist, raised in Bethesda, Maryland, a tony suburb of Washington, D.C., he attended a private high school largely populated by the sons of elites, one that already counts a sitting Supreme Court justice as an alum. As an undergraduate, he went to Yale. He has lectured at Harvard.
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Put another way, there is no possible nominee who’d do less to remedy this flaw in the institution than the man put forward by Donald Trump, who got elected by attacking the insularity of Washington elites.