Harvard and Yale Über Alles?
It seems that George Mason lawprof David Bernstein has spotted a trend:
The president went to Harvard, and barely defeated a primary opponent who went to Yale. His predecessor went to Yale and Harvard, and defeated opponents who went to Harvard. The previous two presidents also went to Yale, with Bush I defeating another Harvard grad for the presidency. And once Elena Kagan gets confirmed, every Supreme Court Justice will have attended Harvard or Yale law schools.
I know that Harvard and Yale attract a disproportionate percentage of America’s talented youth, but still, isn’t this a bit much? Are there no similarly talented individuals who attended other Ivy League schools, other private universities or (gasp!) even state law schools?
As someone with three degrees from two state universities, I truly sympathize. And it’s mighty white of a Yale Law grad like Bernstein to point this out.
I would note, however, that he’s comparing very different things.
Supreme Court nominees are, after all, hand picked by the president. They quite likely benefit from an elite bias towards graduates of those schools. Further, it’s presumably easier to get a Supreme Court clerkship and otherwise get the right holes on one’s ticket punched if you’re a graduate of what are widely acknowledged as the top two law schools in the country. In any event, it may indeed be worthwhile to be cognizant of this bias and consider whether, say, a Stanford or UCLA grad might add some needed diversity to the High Court.
Presidential nominees, on the other hand, are voted on in more-or-less open elections by ordinary citizens. So, if the Democratic and Republican nominating electorates happen to favor graduates of those schools, it’s presumably a function of something else. Perhaps those schools really do get the cream of the crop? Or perhaps the kind of people with the ambition and other skills necessary to politic their way to that level are also the kind of people who scheme to get in to Harvard and Yale? Or perhaps the early signaling advantages — or network effects — of attending those schools is hard for graduates of other schools to overcome?