NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 10, 2009

President Obama may have broken with history by nominating a Latina to the Supreme Court, but he's still followed the path of almost every president in modern times: he chose a nominee groomed in an Ivy League university, says the New York Times.

If confirmed, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who attended Princeton University and Yale Law School, would sit alongside seven other Ivy League graduates on the court.  Only Justice John Paul Stevens provides a measure of non-Ivy diversity, having graduated from the University of Chicago and the Northwestern University School of Law, says the Times:

  • In the history of the court, half of the 110 justices were undergraduates, graduate students or law students in the Ivy League; since 1950, the percentage is 70.
  • From the beginning of the 20th century, every president who has seated a justice has picked at least one Ivy graduate.
  • Four of the six justices on President Obama's short list studied at Ivy League institutions, either as undergraduates or law students.

Whatever a nominee's origins might be, does attending the same institutions shape them and their views, even subtly?  Critics suggest that elite universities shave off the differences in backgrounds and contribute to a kind of high-level groupthink.

According to G. William Domhoff, a professor of psychology and sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, there's a both a funneling and a homogenizing effect from these schools.  The effect plays out in terms of social networks, cultural/social capital and a feeling of being part of the in-group.  It is one of subtle conditioning.

However, limiting the universe of nominees largely to Ivy League graduates is not good for the court or the country.  Educational diversity would strengthen the court, as have racial, ethnic, gender and religious diversity, says the Times.

Source: John Schwartz, "An Ivy-Covered Path to the Supreme Court," New York Times, June 9, 2009.

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