Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Radical Did Not Go Out With Elena Kagan, But Other Ivy League Grads Did: This Week On The Elitist Supreme Court

Last night when Jim Lehrer asked David Brooks and Mark Shields, "How do you see the Elena Kagan nomination now? It's over a week," this Radical moved to the edge of her seat. Which commenter was going to say the L word first?

No, no, not liberal.

Instead, after the normal reassurances that Kagan will be confirmed, just try to find something wrong with her, she was a good dean, she has no opinions about anything, blah, blah, blah, suddenly Shields and Brooks went on a tirade about SCOTUS being an elitist institution. (What, you thought it was a good thing that the highest court in the land was peopled with the best legal minds in the land? Think again, mister. Or sister.)

From the transcript:

MARK SHIELDS: I have to tell you, I mean, I am so tired of Ivy Leaguers. I really am. I want somebody who went to a state university, who didn't grow up in the Eastern time zone, who worked nights, maybe, to pay for their own books, who either was in the enlisted ranks in the United States military or knows somebody who was, somebody who just really didn't -- is west of the Hudson, and east of Malibu.

MARK SHIELDS: There's a great country out there with an awful lot of people in it, and maybe somebody who went to night school once. I mean, why do we -- why do we restrict it to this pool that -- you know, I really just think it is terribly elitist. I mean, it sounds like the British ruling class.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, Mark and I should be happy that it's all Catholics and Jews on the court now.

JIM LEHRER: You guys are covered. That's easy for you to say.


DAVID BROOKS: Personally, I'm the only New York Jew not on the court, so I'm a little pissed off about that.

But I actually agree with Mark. I think the politics of it are bad, by the way, for exactly that reason. People look at it, oh, another Harvard Law. And, you know, they're very smart people and they're very fine people. But it is true that it would be nice to have somebody from the heartland of the Midwest, you know, Chicago, for example.

No, I'm just kidding.

(Editor's note: David Brooks went to the University of Chicago, something his audience is rarely allowed to forget for more than a day at a time.)

DAVID BROOKS: No, I agree -- I agree with Mark, somebody, you know -- it is -- and this is true, by the way, of the Obama administration in general. There's a lot of Harvard and Yale there up and down the ranks. And it is a narrow slice of America.

MARK SHIELDS: When Lyndon Johnson was just absolutely rhapsodizing about how brilliant Jack Kennedy's Cabinet, President Jack Kennedy's Cabinet was, Sam Rayburn -- you know, there were all these Ivy League pedigrees and everything else -- Sam Rayburn said, "I just wish one of them had ever run for sheriff, Lyndon."

Well, I just wish somebody had run for sheriff who was nominated to the Supreme Court, who had been out in the political process and put their name on the ballot.

I've got a good idea: what about Harriet Miers? Didn't she run for sheriff or something?

I mean, please David and Mark. Elena Kagan did not grow up in a bubble, she grew up on the Upper West Side when it actually wasn't such a tidy place as it is now. Remember the 1970s in New York guys? Furthermore, unlike her male peers, if Kagan hadn't been so out of control smart and hard-working she wouldn't have gotten a chance at anything, especially not that Princeton B.A. In case you think being in the right eating club separated her from reality, it is also relevant that except for Elena and her father, everyone in the Kagan family is a
public school teacher, and Kagan herself went to public school prior to college.

But let's look at the rest of this elitist court. Granted, John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy have very suspicious credentials. But
Sonia Sotomayor's single, working mother got her through school at the top of her class so that she could be plucked out of the crowd to go to Princeton. And if you are thinking affirmative action, just stuff it, will you? Any of us who actually work in elitist institutions know perfectly well that people of color and women, in order to be even eligible for affirmative action, have had to be better, smarter and more hard working than anyone else.

Let's look at that consummate elitist
Clarence Thomas, who was abandoned by his father, had a mother was too poor to keep him, and was raised by his working class grandparents. His grandfather hauled ice and coal for a living: there's a soft life. Or let's take a gander at Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was turned down for a Supreme Court clerkship in 1960 because she was a woman (and was also, as a woman, treated abominably by Harvard Law School, as all women were until well into the 1970s.) I suppose it couldn't matter less that Antonin Scalia's father immigrated from Sicily, and worked his way through college and graduate school. Scalia only went to a parochial high school because he was on scholarship and, as an Italian-American of a certain generation, was also probably the object of horrible discrimination (despite being valedictorian of his class, he was not admitted to Princeton.)

In other words, when working- and middle-class people work hard, and are recognized for their success by being welcomed into the nation's top schools, we should probably pass them over for positions of public trust and leadership. I cannot help but think that this sudden concern about SCOTUS being packed with pampered, out-of-touch elitists has something to do with the fact that Obama has now nominated two women in a row. As always, when too many women show up, deep concerns about declining quality suddenly emerge: this is perhaps the most twisted version of that conversation I have yet heard, and from two men who should know better. And readers -- can you really imagine a woman or a person of color being nominated for the Court who did not have a top-drawer Ivy League resume?


Comrade PhysioProf said...

Jeezus motherfuck, is there anything more repulsive than two coddled privileged elite bags of fuck like Shields (Notre Dame alum) and Brooks (UChicago alum) decrying "elitism"?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

As always, when too many women show up, deep concerns about declining quality suddenly emerge: this is perhaps the most twisted version of that conversation I have yet heard, and from two men who should know better.

Oh, and BTW, Shields and Brooks *do* know better. If you think they are ever earnest in what they say, you are mistaken. They are both lying shitbag propagandists for the superrich plutocracy.

Anonymous said...

Being a graduate from an Ivy League school is not a negative. The negative is that the Supreme Court is losing Educational Diversity amongst its members. A very simple example could be vanilla ice cream. Everyone likes vanilla ice cream. The problem arises when you limit your diet exclusively to vanilla ice cream. You get lots of calcium, but you lose out on all of the other needed vitamins and minerals to live a healthy productive life. The same can be said about losing the diversity of knowledge and diverse perspectives that people from other institutions can provide. The majority of the Supreme Court Judges should not be Ivy League graduates.

Anonymous said...

The following applies to Kagan, just as it did to Sotomajor.

This editorial was created by 160 Associated Press readers under a Creative Commons Share-Alike Attribution License 3.0 using MixedInk's collaborative writing tool. For more about how it was created, see here. It can be republished only if accompanied by this note.

Obamas Appointment of Sotomayor Fails to Offer Educational Diversity to Court.

Sotomayor does not offer true diversity to our Supreme Court. The potential power of Sotomayor's diversity as a Latina Woman, from a disadvantaged background, loses its strength because her Yale Law degree does not offer educational diversity to the current mix of sitting Judges. Once she walked through the Gates of Princeton and then Yale Law School she became educated by the same Professors that have educated the majority of our current Supreme Court Justices, and our Presidents.

Diversity in education is extremely important. We need to look for diversity in our ideas, and if our leaders are from the same educational background, they lose the original power of their ethnic and gender diversity. The ethnic and gender diversity many of our current leaders possess no longer brings a plethora of new ideas, only the same perspective they learned from their common Ivy League education. One example of the common education problem is that Yale has been heavily influenced by a former lecturer at Yale, Judge Frank, who developed the philosophy of Legal Realism. Frank argued that Judges should not only look at the original intent of the Constitution, but they should also bring in outside influences, including their own experiences in order to determine the law. This negative interpretation has influenced both Conservatives and Liberals graduating from Yale. It has been said that Legal Realism has infested Yale Law School and turned lawyers into political activists.

A generation of appointees with either a Harvard or Yale background, has the potential to distort the proper interpretation of our Constitution. America needs to decentralize the power structure away from the Ivy League educated individual and gain from the knowledgeable and diverse perspectives that people from other institutions can provide. We should appoint Supreme Court Justices educated from amongst a wider group of Americas Universities.

Harvard -

Chief Justice John Roberts
Anthony Kennedy
Antonin Scalia
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Harvard, Columbia)


Samuel Alito - Yale JD 1975
David Souter
Clarence Thomas - Yale JD 1974
Sonia Sotomayor - Yale JD 1979

Northwestern Law School.

Justice John Paul Stevens

The Presidents we have elected for the last twenty years, have themselves been Harvard or Yale educated. This has the potential to create an even more closed minded interpretation of our laws.

Yale - Bush Sr. - 4 years
Yale Law - Clinton - 8 years
Yale - Bush, Jr. - 8 Years
Harvard Law - Obama - 4 - 8 years

When we consider that our Nation has potentially twenty - eight years of Presidential influence from these two Universities, as Americans, we should look long and hard at the influence Yale and Harvard have exerted on our nation's policies. Barack Obama promised America Change, but he has continued the same discriminatory policy by appointing a Yale graduate over many qualified candidates that graduated from other top Colleges and Universities in America.

sallieparker said...

Very bad research! Scalia did not go to a parochial high school. If memory serves, he went to Xavier, an independent non-parochial private day school well outside his parish. Actually there are few if any parochial high schools in the New York area, though there are still some diocesan ones.

JackDanielsBlack said...

It would be nice to see a few working class people who graduate at the top of their class at Ole Miss or North Carolina Central law school on the Supreme Court, in my opinion--this being the great land of opportunity and all that. After all, Yale and Harvard didn't do much to improve George W, did they? And Comrade PhysioProf, you, Sir or Madam, have a bad case of potty-mouth!

sallieparker said...

JackDanielsBlack, you are a gentleman and a scholar, even if you are a woman (Old English: man=person; wyfman=woman; but you know all this).

Gosh, this potty-mouthed stuff has always baffled me. Usually I give it a pass, figuring the jerk is drunk, which is perfeckly fine with me. But then I mention this rationale for caritas, and the jerk comes back with, 'I NEVER drink, I am NEVER intoxicated, etc.', to which the only possible reply is, 'Uh-oh. Where's the exit?'

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I think part of what informs this conversation is the obsession with law school rankings endemic in the legal community. The ranking system is incredibly flawed, and everyone denounces the rankings, but everyone lives and dies by them. And it skews people's thinking about how to evaluate these schools and their grads.

I have to admit, though, I do wonder why the hell everyone on the court has to have gone to Harvard or Yale. That's not implying the current members of the court don't deserve to be there or personally embody privilege (though some might). It's just that there are lots and lots of other qualified people. Why can't just one be from Stanford, or Chicago, or Berkeley, or Michigan? There's a difference between saying the Court is elitist, and saying that the Court represents a very small segment of the U.S. legal community. God knows Stanford and Chicago and the rest of the top 10 law schools are pretty darn elite institutions.

Bess said...

I'm wondering if anyone can offer a historical perspective as well.. given the rise in overall education, including graduate education, plus the major increase in applicant pool given gender diversity, in the last few decades all of the highest-ranked schools (ivy or not) have become more competitive. So could one say that the difference between the Ivies and the better state schools was more significant in the 1970s than today? (in perceived, if not in actual, quality of education)

Ahistoricality said...

I suppose it would mark me as "reality-based" to point out that none of these schools has a dominant ideology or ruling party, so it's entirely possible to get a diversity of views among the faculties, that all of these schools take great pride in the geographic, ethnic and socio-economic diversity of their students, going through all kinds of contortions to make that a reality, that thousands of Ivy-class graduates are produced every year who fail to lead a branch of government, major corporation or to become a self-named multimedia corporation but who actually do good and useful work.....

Oh, never mind. There's nothing quite like journalists with a simplifying narrative in their heads, unless it's a pit bull with a bone in it's teeth.

Bardiac said...

As a non-east coaster, I do get a sense that there's that old New Yorker cover sort of map thing going on, where people from the elite schools in the east can't see beyond their bounds.

But as long as Kagan's smart and ethical, I'm hoping for the best here.

Tenured Radical said...

To all: Comrade PhysioProf seems to be a libertarian, equal-opportunity, spleen-venting First Amendmenter. He wouldn't write anything on my blog that he wouldn't write on his own. Check it out and see. I have no idea who he is. As he only insults other people, I don't take his comments down. It's a bit like having a mink living in your house, but it's my house, and so far I have been startled but not offended.

SallieParker: My research is good, but perhaps I have a flawed notion of what a parochial school is. Xavier is a Catholic school, and in my day we called them all parochial schools, but perhaps this is Protestant ignorance. Are they only parochial if they are run by the parish?

New Kid: You are in law school so you would be better informed -- but is it ranking, or is it networking that puts people in the position to be justices - i.e., who you clerk for? I would point out to everyone that in France there is a single school that you attend if you are interested in going into politics, and while one might find fault with France, it's a pretty well run country.

But it is Ahistoricality, with his usual cut straight to the point manner who has hit the nail on the head. Why have so many people bought into the right-wing canard that "different" and "diverse" people enter elite institutions where -- as Pete Seeger sang in "Little Boxes" -- "they all are put in boxes and they turn out all the same?"

There is, of course, another possible answer to this question: were we to go for the best legal minds from Chicago, Stanford, Emory and Michigan -- not to mention Rutgers, Northeastern and such -- they would be demonstrably left or right wing, and unconfirmable.

Fretful Porpentine said...

So growing up in the entire Eastern time zone makes one an elitist these days? Doesn't that include something like half the population of the US (probably more than half, actually, considering that the current crop of potential Supreme Court justices grew up fifty years ago?)

JackDanielsBlack said...

If 60% of Yale's student body were Catholic and the other 40% were Jewish, and if 44% of Yale's students came from New York City and all of them were graduates of two East-coast prep schools, would you maintain that the Yale student body was a fair representation of America? Would you say it was diverse?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

It's a bit like having a mink living in your house[.]

CPP's been compared to a lotta shit, but this is a first.

Tenured Radical said...

Well Jack, honestly, I think it's interesting that as a country we have decided to define diversity as being about which law school you went to and whether you are Catholic or Jewish. Not your class or national origins, your race, your gender...and when we talk about sexuality, of course, it's a *bad* thing unless it's hetero -- where's the diversity in that?

In fact, we don;t even think diversity means enough to support affirmative action anymore -- so why has it become such an issue on the court? And why *wasn't* it an issue during the Bush administration?

I find these more compelling questions. Of course, a Muslim on the court would please me immensely. Protestants are too busy wrecking the economy to deal with the law at this stage.....

Historiann said...

I agree with you, TR, that it's certainly conveeeeeeenient that the carping about HarvardYale only appears after Obama nominated 2 HarvardYale educated women for the court. But, this cowgirl finds the regional and HarvardYale bias of the current court troubling. I don't think those of you who live East of the Hudson River probably understand how myopic the current court looks from our perspective over the Appalachians, across the Arkansas River, or over the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas. (And I say this as a Seven Sisters and Ivy grad myself. Happenstance has made me a Westerner, not my own training.)

If diversity is good for the court, then diversity in all respects is good for the court. The idea that there are only two law schools that can produce SCOTUS nominees is laughable. It's a big country, but you'd never know that to look at the current court.

But, perhaps more importantly: are lefties and libs happy with the decisions the newly Monoivycultural court has brought us? Gonzales? Kelo? Ledbetter? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

JackDanielsBlack said...

TR, by all means, lets have a black muslim feminist lawyer on the court--and lets balance her off with a good ole' boy who larned his manners in the Kappa Alpha order. In my opinion, either would be an improvement over yet another Harvard/Yale elitist.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Your point about networking is correct, but I'd argue that networking in law school is much more tied to rankings than it is in other fields. That is, who you clerk for is an important factor, but you are almost certainly never going to clerk for certain people coming from certain schools. Justice Thomas, god love him, is probably the only justice who looks beyond the top 10 schools in hiring his clerks. In many many circles, rankings are held to be reliable proxies for quality. (And in some ways they are - I will admit you have to be really fricking smart to get into Yale and Harvard. But the scorn for "third tier toilet" schools among elements of the legal community is really amazing, and it makes those of us not at top-14 schools defensive.)

As for the example of France - really? I mean, I'm not saying it's any worse-run than the U.S., but 1) it's a lot smaller and has a lot fewer universities than the U.S., and 2) there have been significant critiques of the class-replicating nature of its education system. And I'd hardly hold France up as a model for issues involving diversity (didn't they recently ban wearing religious garb that covers your face?).

Dr. Virago said...

"Are they only parochial if they are run by the parish?"

Yes. And parochial schools are generally cheaper than non-parochial schools (those are usually run by single orders of priests or nuns or friars). Parochial (= run by the parish) grade schools and diocesan (=run by the diocese, the level up from parish) high schools are the Catholic equivalent of public schools -- you get put in them by your address -- but cost money. Private Catholic schools cost more and are often have competitive admissions.