Thursday, April 15, 2010

The inside straight

It was surprising enough to see that with the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court will not have a single Protestant among its black-robed elite. But equally jaw-dropping was the fact that without Stevens, every member of the court has attended Harvard or Yale law school. ...

I’m not arguing to set aside a seat for mediocrity, as was done when President Nixon nominated a segregationist with a below-average legal mind, G. Harrold Carswell, prompting one senator to say that mediocre people “are entitled to a little representation.” ...

But clearly, Harvard and Yale need no extra seats at the high end of American power. The law school at Yale is currently represented by three justices — Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — the latter two nominated by George H.W. Bush, Yale University class of ’48, and George W. Bush, Yale University ’69, Harvard Business School ’75.

Five sitting justices have gone to Harvard Law School — John Roberts, Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (though she transferred to Columbia) and Stephen G. Breyer. Three of them were appointed by presidents who went to Harvard or Yale. That’s an Ivy inside straight, a picture of narrow-minded exclusivity that defies the meritocratic ideals of this big land. ...

The current choices, for the most part, are more of the same. Elena Kagan, the solicitor general, is said to be the front-runner. And what did she do in the real world? Until recently, she was dean of Harvard Law. There’s also Merrick B. Garland, the appeals court judge highly regarded by some Republicans who went to — you guessed it — Harvard Law School.
--Timothy Egan, NYT, on the Harvard-Yale stranglehold

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