The Diversity of "Diversity"

Yes, I was happy and delighted to hear the news of Elena Kagan's confirmation as the fourth female Supreme Court Justice, and the third on today's supreme court.

However, my happiness was tempered by some of the discussion I'd heard earlier on NPR (while brushing my teeth in the bathroom in the morning,) as Obama weighed his selection of a nominee. While we've gotten very far in terms of gender diversity, there are a few ways that today's Supreme Court is not at all diverse... even besides the fact that six of the nine Justices prior to Kagan's confirmation identified as Roman Catholic. Is that the texture of your workplace? (Probably not, unless your logging in from the Vatican.)

It was the educational background of the justices that bothered me more. "In the last 20 years, especially, three Ivy League law schools —Harvard, Yale, and Columbia— have been disproportionately represented on the Court. Of the nine sitting Justices, eight have attended one of these three law schools, including recently confirmed Justice Sotomayor, who is a graduate of Yale Law School."* The one guy who wasn't from Harvard, Yale or Columbia? The fellow who just retired! And even then, his law school was Northwestern. (Kagan went to Yale Law School.)

It's hard for me to believe that there are only three good law schools in this country, which suggests it's a lot about who you know, who you went to school with, and maybe who their parents were. Dig deeper and the workings of the "old boy's network" is worse: "Not only did all 9 justices attend at least one Ivy League school, 5 of the nine attended either more than one Ivy League school or more than one level at the same Ivy League school."

It's not just that I went to a little liberal arts college in the Midwest. I'd take a state school grad to mix things up. How deep can the justices' understanding be of the variety of issues that come before them when they each had their legal training in the same environment?

For this reason, even though she's a woman, I'm still a little unsatisfied with the court's current composition. Here's hoping for next time.

(*Source: Congressional Research Office, Supreme Court Justices: Demographic Characteristics, Professional Experience, and Legal Education, 1789-2010. April 2010.)

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