Yet another Ivy League grad tapped for the highest court

By Jack Crittenden

With the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, President Donald Trump had his second opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice. And he went Ivy League — again. 

Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh for the coveted spot. He's a Yale Law School grad, so if comfirmed by the U.S. Senate, he will be the fourth justice from that school on the court. 

Earlier in his term, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a Havard Law School graduate, to the nation's highest court. He was later confirmed by the Senate. 

When it came to this most recent nomination, many were hoping for greater diversity, at least in terms of law school alma mater. Kennedy and four of the returning justices (Gorsuch, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and John Roberts) graduated from Harvard Law School. Kagan was even dean of Harvard prior to her appointment. Ruth Bader Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School after two years at Harvard.

The other three justices (Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayer and Clarence Thomas) graduated from Yale Law School.

Supreme Court

Harvard and Yale have long dominated the Supreme Court, with Harvard boasting 20 alumni and Yale 10. Columbia Law School is third with seven alumni. Only The University of Michigan Law School joins the three Ivy League schools with more than two justices. But its third justice. Frank Murphy, retired in 1949.  

Since then, more than 70 percent of Supreme Court justices were graduates of Ivy League institutions. While an Ivy League degree is often viewed as a simple litmus test for filtering viable candidates, some legal professionals and pundits see the continual nomination of Yale and Harvard graduates as a disturbing elitist trend. 

Some were hoping that this pick would break the trend, given Trump's short list. Of the 25 candidates Trump had listed, only six hailed from an Ivy League school — four from Yale and two from Harvard.

Kavanaugh, 53, has the kind of resume that past nominees have sported as well. He clerked for Kennedy, for instance. Currently, he's a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. "Judge Kavanaugh has impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law," Trump said when announcing the nomination.

The rest on his short list had more humble academic roots. They come from 17 other schools, including 11 that have never produced a Supreme Court Justice. These include three top 14 law schools — University of Chicago, Georgetown University and Duke University. But there are also other schools that, while highly respected, are not considered elite — Marquette University, Brigham Young University, University of Miami, University of Georgia, University of Kansas and University of Oklahoma.

In addition to Harvard and Yale, Notre Dame Law School had multiple candidates — Amy Coney Barrett, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and Margaret Ryan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

University of Chicago also has two on the list — Allison Eid, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, and Thomas Lee, Supreme Court of Utah. Both graduated in 1991.

Twelve of the candidates graduated after 1991, with the most recent graduates being Patrick Wyrick, University of Oklahoma class of 2007, and Britt Grant, Stanford Law School class of 2007.

The elite schools of the Northeast were not always a cradle for future Supreme Court appointments. Remarkably, a Juris Doctor is not even a requirement to become a Supreme Court justice. Before Benjamin Robbins graduated from Harvard Law School in 1832, justices either studied the law under a sitting judge or went to law school and did not graduate. In the nation’s short history, just 48 out of 112 justices successfully graduated from law school. Of those graduates, 15 were from Harvard and 6 were from Yale. Others graduated from equally prestigious schools such as Stanford.

 

Trump’s Short List

 

Brigham Young University

 Mike Lee of Utah,

United States Senator

1997

Duke University

Don Willett of Texas

Supreme Court of Texas

1992

Georgetown University Law Center

Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

1990

Harvard Law School

Kevin Newsom of Alabama

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

1997

Harvard Law School

Robert Young of Michigan

Supreme Court of Michigan (Ret.)

1977

Marquette University Law School

Diane Sykes of Wisconsin

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

1984

Northwestern University School of Law

Joan Larsen of Michigan

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

1993

Notre Dame Law School

Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

1997

Notre Dame Law School

Margaret Ryan of Virginia

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

1995

Stanford Law School

Britt Grant of Georgia

Supreme Court of Georgia

2007

Tulane University Law School

William Pryor of Alabama

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

1987

UC Berkeley School of Law

Amul Thapar of Kentucky

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

1994

University of Chicago

Thomas Lee of Utah

Supreme Court of Utah

1991

University of Chicago

Allison Eid of Colorado

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

1991

University of Colorado Law School

Timothy Tymkovich of Colorado

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

1982

University of Georgia

Keith Blackwell of Georgia

Supreme Court of Georgia

1999

University of Kansas School of Law

David Stras of Minnesota

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

1999

University of Miami School of Law

Federico Moreno of Florida

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida

1978

University of Michigan Law School

Raymond Kethledge of Michigan

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

1993

University of Oklahoma College of Law

Patrick Wyrick of Oklahoma

Supreme Court of Oklahoma

2007

Washington University School of Law

 Raymond Gruender of Missouri

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

1987

Yale Law School

Edward Mansfield of Iowa

Supreme Court of Iowa

1982

Yale Law School

Charles Canady of Florida

Supreme Court of Florida

1979

Yale Law School

Steven Colloton of Iowa

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

1988

Yale Law School

Brett Kavanaugh of Maryland

U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

1990

 

Associate Editor Tyler Roberts contributed to this story.

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