12 May 2010

Harvard and Yale and the Supreme Court

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Michael Filozof (recently an adjunct instructor at Niagra County Community College), at American Thinker, denounces the elite conspiracy that rules America.

If it sometimes seems that the nation is governed by an elite liberal clique of college fraternity and sorority pals who are out of touch with average Americans, that’s because it’s largely true. Every president, and almost every presidential candidate for the last two decades has been a graduate of Harvard or Yale, and if Kagan gets confirmed by the Senate every member of the Supreme Court will have been a Yale or Harvard attendee, too.

The 1988 presidential election was a contest between Harvard law grad Michael Dukakis and Yalie George H.W. Bush. Yale Law grads Bill and Hillary Clinton came to power in 1992, beating Washburn alum Bob Dole in 1996.

The election of 2000 produced an interesting result: George W. Bush, a graduate of both Yale and Harvard (but according to his leftist critics the dumbest president ever) beat another Harvard grad, Al Gore, who is supposedly so brilliant he won a Nobel Prize. And in 2004 Bush beat fellow Yale grad John Kerry, whose grades at Yale were worse than Bush’s grades.

The election of 2008 saw the ascension to the presidency of Harvard graduate Barack Obama, who beat Navy grad John McCain. According to his supporters like Michael Beschloss, David Brooks, and Colin Powell, Obama is “brilliant” and “transformational” – yet oddly, he never published anything as first black president of the Harvard Law Review, and unlike Bush, Kerry and McCain, his grades have never been released.

On the Supreme Court, Justices Alito, Sotomayor, and Thomas are Yale Law grads, while Scalia, Roberts, Breyer and Kennedy all went to Harvard Law. Justice Ginsberg graduated from Columbia Law, but she attended Harvard before transferring there. The odd man out is the retiring Justice Stevens, who got his law degree from Northwestern, soon to be replaced by Harvard’s Kagan.

What shall we make of this preponderance of Yale-Harvard grads in elite positions of our society?

It’s much more complicated that that, I’m afraid. Mr. Filozof is not wrong, of course, about liberal culture dominating at Harvard and Yale, as at all elite institutions of higher education, but both Yale and Harvard do produce some prominent conservatives. Clarence Thomas is the soundest member of the Supreme Court, and he went to Yale Law. George W. Bush was, after all, if not entirely conservative, at least decidedly anti-liberal establishment which hated him like poison.

There is a strong conservative presence at Yale. There is even some conservative presence in Cambridge. It’s just the case that conservatives are less welcome in the establishment in many areas, and successful careerists (like Elena Kagan, read David Brooks on Kagan and conformity) are much more commonly conventionally liberal.

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At Volokh, David Bernstein, Yale Law ’91, graciously stands up for other schools:

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 Yale and Harvard, and Harvard, respectively. 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?

I think the current Harvard-Yale monopoly is really just happenstance and coincidence. I feel sure that, if we live long enough, we’ll see people from UVA, Chicago, and even Stanford, and Columbia on the Court again.

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