Perhaps John F. Kennedy was right when, in the course of his commencement address at Yale, he said he now had the best of both worlds: a Harvard education and a Yale degree. It would be a better world if the majority of Kennedy’s successors, including President Trump, had nominated Supreme Court justices who were neither graduates of Harvard Law School nor Yale Law School.
That Judge Brett Kavanaugh may soon replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, a fellow in name but not blood to JFK; that Kennedy will leave the Court and thus create a four-to-four tie between Harvard and Yale, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Columbia University, LLB) as the outlier; that we will have an all-Ivy League Supreme Court is cause for concern, not celebration.
A duopoly of this kind suggests two schools have the final say in our judicial system. They do have the final say, despite Justice Ginsburg’s transfer from Harvard to Columbia.
The implication is that only these schools produce the best jurists; that no other schools have graduates of equal foresight and comparable felicity as writers and thinkers; that no other schools have professors of Talmudic intelligence and Solomonic wisdom; that neither a scholar of Jesuitical training nor a master of the Socratic method can outsmart any one of the Court’s nine members; that all other schools pale beside the laurels of a law degree from Harvard or Yale.
To believe this nonsense requires presidents to perpetuate it. And so, they do. None of which means we have a Court worthy of the intellectual prestige it enjoys. I could, of course, be wrong.
I will concede as much when I read a majority opinion or a dissent from a Justice who is as fluent in the cadences of the Bible as he or she is in the clauses of the Constitution; who is as eloquent in Court as he or she is in chambers; who knows the words of Jefferson as well as the sonnets of Shakespeare; who enlivens the letter of the law by expressing the spirit of our devotion to the law.
History has a name for this lawyer who never went to college or law school.
Call Abraham Lincoln whatever you want, but do not call him a graduate of Harvard or Yale Law School.