Supreme Court Diversity
There’s a shocking lack of diversity on the U.S. Supreme Court, WaPo staff writer Robert Barnes points out.
There hasn’t been a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant put forward in the five nominations since Justice David H. Souter came to the court in 1990. With Souter’s impending departure, the demographic will be seriously underrepresented on a court that features five Catholics and two Jews.
Of course, as he notes, white guys generally have done okay: “There are seven of them on the current court, and they have accounted for all but four of the 110 justices in the court’s history, who include two black men, two white women, no Hispanics (notwithstanding the disputed Justice Benjamin Cardozo, who served from 1932 to 1938), no Asian Americans and no Native Americans.” So, perhaps WASPs are not the most likely object of sympathy.
More interestingly, none of the current Justices graduated from a public university or law school. And every single one of them served as U.S. appellate judges first, making this the first Court so comprised.
As someone with undergraduate and graduate degrees from public universities who has never served as an appellate judge, I’m very sympathetic to the plight of those groups. Certainly, there have to be dozens of law professors, politicians, think tankers, and others who have the educational background, demonstrated ability to think about complex legal issues at an abstract level, and other attributes required to be a superb Supreme Court justice. (President George W. Bush tried going outside the appellate judge “priesthood” with Harriet Miers but fell rather short.)
At the same time, however, it stands to reason that the most prestigious law schools and the appellate courts will be the proving grounds for virtually all of the seats on the Supreme Court. While there are social and economic reasons that will keep some potentially brilliant lawyers from Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Berkeley, Stanford, Columbia, and NYU the reputation and connections of those schools make them the natural feeders for the most prestigious clerkships, professorships, and postgraduate employment options. The University of Texas or even the University of Alabama are fine schools — and the latter produced Justice Hugo Black — but its graduates are very unlikely to get on the proper “track” to have achieved the milestones likely to impress the ABA, a presidentially appointed search team, and the Senate Judiciary Committee twenty years out of school.