By Tyler Roberts
When President Donald Trump stepped under a glowing chandelier in the White House East Room to introduce to America a man who could be the next justice appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, law schools around the country were probably wondering if the bench could become more diverse in terms of alma mater.
“I promised to find someone who respects our laws and is representative of our Constitution, and loves our Constitution, and will interpret them as written” President Trump said seconds before what’s been both mocked as a “Bachelor”-style announcement and heralded as an example of transparency.
The final choice: Judge Neil Gorsuch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, a product of Harvard Law School.
Young, Ivy League educated, sharp with a pen and a conservative intellectual, Gorsuch has ben applauded by the conservative right.
Yet, some of President Trump’s supporters were surprised with his decision, believing that the new president might choose someone without such an elite pedigree.
Of the list of 21 potential nominees that Trump had released during his campaign, just five were graduates of the law schools at Yale or Harvard. The rest came from 15 other schools, including many that have never produced a Supreme Court Justice.
The Ivies have had somewhat of a monopoly, as the eight sitting justices went to Yale or Harvard. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School after two years at Harvard.)
In fact, more than 70 percent of Supreme Court justices since 1950 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.
The late Justice Antonin Scalia, a Harvard man himself, was critical of the “striking unrepresentative character” of the bench in his dissent to the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage in 2015. However, he believed that judges are “selected precisely for their skill as lawyers; whether they reflect the policy views of a particular constituency is not (or should not be) relevant.”
The elite schools of the northeast were not always a cradle for future Supreme Court appointments. Incredibly, 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.
Gorsuch earned a B.A. at Columbia University, and a doctor of philosophy from Oxford University.
While at Harvard, Gorsuch was an editor for the Harvard Journal of Law & Politics. He graduated cum laude in 1991 and went on to serve as a law clerk for Judge David B. Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He continued federal clerkship under Associate Justices Byron R. White and Anthony M. Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court before entering private practice.
Martha Minnow, dean of Harvard Law School, said in a statement: “On behalf of Harvard Law School, I congratulate Judge Gorsuch on his nomination and I send best wishes from his alma mater during the upcoming confirmation process.
“I also send thanks to Judge Gorsuch for his devotion to public service, to the rule of law, and to the administration of justice. His work as a federal judge, scholar, teacher and lawyer in both public and private practice, show commitment to rigorous thinking and fairness, and the nation is fortunate to have the benefit of his talents.”
Although Gorsuch comes into the Supreme Court nomination with irreproachable credentials as a jurist, his nomination has sparked a partisan clash. He will need 60 votes to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and Democrats have voiced intent to oppose the nomination, just as the GOP opposed former President Obama’s selection, Merrick Garland.
Trump is encouraging “going nuclear” to get his pick approved — which means Senate rules could be changed to allow Gorsuch to be confirmed with a simple majority.