Thursday, May 13, 2010

Diversity on the Court

A couple of funnies vis-a-vis "diversity" on the Supreme Court (noted all over the internet, not just by me). First of all, assuming (I do) that Elena Kagan will be confirmed, that will mean that every single justice spent time at either Harvard or Yale law (Ginsburg actually graduated from Columbia, but attended Harvard first). The three most recent appointees (Kagan, Sotomayor, and Alito) all did their undergrad at Princeton. This will be the first time ever that three women have served on the Supreme Court at the same time, but all three of them are Ivy-League liberals from New York City (as is Scalia, except, of course, for the liberal part). And the court will have 6 Roman Catholics and 3 Jews, with zero protestants. Add in the fact that President Obama, of Harvard, defeated Senator Clinton, of Yale, for the right to replace President Bush, of Yale undergrad and Harvard Business, who lost the popular vote to Senator Gore, of Harvard... I sure am glad our country values diversity!

Not that I have anything against the Ivies. Indeed, my school produces its share of Ivy-leaguers, of whom we are justifiably proud. Just to rattle off a few, two of my favorite student-athletes are graduating this month, one from Harvard, the other from Yale. Just yesterday, a former favorite accosted me in the halls on campus--he just finished his freshman year at Yale. And in this year's graduating class, we have a Harvard, an MIT (who is a Presidential Scholar), and my cross-country team captain turned down Dartmouth and Columbia in favor of the full-ride scholarship at Duke.

But let's also be honest--all of these Ivy kids (and in that group I am counting the judges and politicians) fit a certain type. One does not go to that sort of school without fitting the profile. Yes, they are demonstrably smart (although a perfect SAT does not necessarily outrank one in the 96th percentile, and a perfect GPA does not necessarily put one head-and-shoulders above the nearly-perfect). They all interview well. They all have loads of extracurricular activities, properly spread around all the major categories (every single member of the group of my own students I just rattled off has some combination of athletics, fine arts, student government, and community or school service on their resume, usually in near-ludicrous proportions). But most important, they are absolute masters at playing the game.

There's nothing wrong with playing the game, beating the system, figuring out where the proper gears and levers are. It's a major life skill. But it's not farming. On a farm, there's no cramming. On a farm, making the right connections won't get you anywhere. But in an academic setting (and later, in a legal/judicial/political setting), you're dealing with a man-made system, with rules and loopholes, with social norms and expectations. A system like that is built to be manipulated by the exceptionally bright and highly motivated. As I read the various narratives about soon-to-be-Justice Kagan, I am intrigued by the plain vanilla quality of her career. It seems that she may, once at most, as an undergraduate, have expressed a somewhat controversial opinion on paper. The horror! But she has pretty much not made a single misstep that would cause her to stumble on any rung of the ladder of success. It's almost as if she has been preparing for a smooth confirmation hearing since high school. If you know these kids, that's not surprising.

But here's the thing--these kids are the best and brightest, the hard workers, and all that. But they wind up being the movers and shakers, not just in politics, but in finance, in academics, and so forth. They wind up being the ones who write the rules--rules which reward Ivy-type kids. I find it interesting that the last US president we had who didn't get an "elite" education was Ronald Reagan (of Eureka College in Tampico, Illinois). Incidentally, he's also the last president that I can remember who picked an "interesting" nominee for the court. (Although his picks still had the "elite" cred--O'Connor was 3rd in her class at Stanford; Rehnquist was first. And Scalia is an Ivy guy). You know what I'd love to see? A Supreme Court judge who was top of his or her class at the University of South Carolina School of Law. You want a judge with symapthy for the underdog? Pick a Gamecock.


Pete said...

Larry, I'm not sure you're aware... but I'm actually an ivy-leaguer. It's not something I generally brag about, but my home town & high school had it's share of Kudzu, which is a vining, ivy-like plant...

I guess that means I could be in the running for the presidency or maybe even a supreme court justice seat.

Well, I think i'll get back to my supreme pizza.

bekster said...

Something that makes it even more sick... On our trip this weekend, Tommy and I drove from South Carolina through North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio to Michigan, and then hit Kentucky and Tennessee on the way back. We probably spent 30 to 32-ish hours in the car, so I feel like we got a good sampling of that section of America. Something that really struck us was just how rural everything was. Sure, there were some bigger cities here are there, but they were few and far between. We both got the strong impression that the majority of the people along our route, which we felt were representative of a lot of the country, were just not that high calibur of people. Many of these people may not even bother to go to college at all, much less Harvard or Yale. Our policitians are supposed to represent the people, but most Americans are not like the elite. (Well, I guess that's what "elite" means.) Yes, we do have places like L.A. and New York, etc. where there is a higher standard--and because of TV and movies, people probably think of this type of American as typical--but the majority of the population are just "regular people." Based on what we saw on our trip, I even felt a little "higher class" just being from Charleston, which really surprised me. Anyway, it does make sense that our leaders would be smarter and have enough wisdom to make good decisions, but it just gets ridiculous when they are so far "above" everyone else that they can't even relate to their problems except to think of some abstract ideal (like "feeding the poor"). How can they possibly understand the situation of the poor when they themselves are living in high-rise condos wearing professionally laundered suits every day? But, you're right, it is a game, and when they get to write their own rules, no one else stands a chance. (Reminder to self: God is our King. We rely on Him, not the government, to sustain us.)