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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Case For Supreme Court Diversity Extends To Alma Mater

The Supreme Court is pictured in 2006 in Washington, D.C. (kubina/Flickr)

Since 1988, the majority of Supreme Court justices went to Harvard Law School or Yale Law School. (kubina/Flickr)

The Supreme Court is more diverse than ever in terms of race and gender, but the current court is not very diverse when it comes to the educational backgrounds of the justices.

Since 1988, the majority of justices went to Harvard Law School or Yale Law School. Since 2010, it’s been 100 percent. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated from Columbia Law School, but started her law training at Harvard. In other words, the Supreme Court might as well be covered in ivy, and there are a lot of people who say that’s a problem.

Lucas Powe Jr., professor of law and government at the University of Texas Austin and Supreme Court historian, speaks with Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti about why the next justice should be different from those currently on the bench.

Interview Highlights: Lucas A. Powe Jr.

On all current Supreme Court justices having attended either Harvard or Yale Law

“There’s just something wrong when you think only Harvard and Yale are capable of producing Supreme Court justices. The court that decided Brown v Board of Education had nine men who had wide experience all through the United States and government.”

On the importance of educational, geographic and experience diversity

“It seems to me that if you’re going to a law school not on the East Coast, you’re likely to meet different people than are at Yale and Harvard, which are the two best law schools in the country, but there’s a lot of other good law schools and you’ll get a much more diverse mix of classmates at the other law schools. And geographic diversity matters because the West is different from the East Coast and water is so much more important in the West. We need more diversity on the court, not just gender diversity or racial diversity but geographic diversity and experience diversity.”

On Harriet Miers’ nomination to the Court to replace Sandra Day O’Connor being hindered by the fact she attended the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University

“Yes, there’s no doubt that that factored against her, but there’s much more. Her opponents who were pointing that out were Republicans who were demanding that President Bush select somebody who had judicial experience so that the conservatives could be sure that that person had no liberal tendencies whatsoever. There’s been a desire, especially among conservatives, for ideological purity on any nomination.”

Whom he would suggest President Obama nominate to the court

“Take a public defender from the West. We have prosecutors in the Supreme Court and they are well aware how prosecution works, but there are people on the other side who are well aware of the abuses that prosecutors engage in and a public defender would have that. And the West, because it’s half the country and it deserves more than being flown over. I would also note that if the Republicans successfully block any nomination and then Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, I would hope she would nominate Barack Obama to the court.


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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