Op-ed: The law’s country club

  • By Bob Franken
  • Monday, July 16, 2018 2:47pm
  • Opinion

Is it possible that only Ivy League law schools produce attorneys who have what it takes to climb to the top of this country’s jurisprudence heap? This heap’s pinnacle, of course, is the U.S. Supreme Court. Apparently, we have evolved to a nation where the SCOTUS ivory tower is exclusively the Ivy tower. Even President Donald Trump. the rabble rouser in chief, is said to have factored in Brett Kavanaugh’s Yale pedigree when he chose him for another new haven. Assuming the Senate complies, he will cluster with the Supremes: five Harvard, three other Yalies and one (Ginsburg) who attended Harvard Law before switching to Columbia. Kavanaugh would replace Anthony Kennedy, who is a Harvard alum, so Yale would pick up an elite seat. Isn’t diversity great?

But are those universities so inherently superior, particularly when you consider the fact that Trump graduated from one (Penn), and George W. Bush got his degree from Yale? Maybe sometimes it just doesn’t take. But is it that or is it that the Ivies are overrated, or that some of the others are underrated?

Even if you set aside Stanford, which many describe as just a West Coast Ivy, with Sandra Day O’Connor and William Rehnquist as alums, what about the University of Michigan or Virginia, not to mention Georgetown? They are among many with sterling programs. And let’s not overlook Ohio State, Arizona State and Deep State (I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention). Those programs graduate scads of brilliant lawyers. But they’re still not regarded as the super-elites. Maybe that’s Ivy League self-serving PR. Maybe the critics are correct when they charge that the most important courses at any of them include Hubris, Entitlement and, most important of all, Networking. Look no further than the Supremes.

I remember sitting in a green room with a former news type who had escaped the frenetic riffraff world of reporting, and now was enjoying the leisurely, elegant life as an academic at Princeton. What classes he taught obviously had to do with journalism. Making small talk, I insincerely commented that he must enjoy the stimulation of interacting with and molding fresh student minds, particularly the brightest of the bright, in an Ivy league school.

“Not really,” he snapped, “Most of these kids just got into Princeton because they did what they’re told.” He meant that they grew up excelling at sucking up to all their teachers; not making waves, and getting high grades as a result. Either that or they were admitted because the parents were willing to make a huge contribution to the already heavily endowed institution of higher learning.

What can get lost in all this is the common touch and common sense. When it is automatically assumed that brilliance can shine only overhead, we fail to illuminate the worthy experience of those who labor below. Life at the top is insular.

One could make a similar argument about the exclusive private schools in this country, the primary and secondary ones where the children of privilege get their formative educations. There are at least two problems: their inherent snobbery, along with the neglect and deterioration of public schools, particularly in cities where you have concentrations of the poor. Since well-off and influential parents can afford the tuition charged by these upper-crust bastions, they don’t have to wield their power and knowledge of the levers that need pulling on behalf of public schools — something they might feel compelled to do if their offspring attended. Instead, they simply turn to their scholastic country clubs, where the closest brush the kiddies will have with diversity is the janitors.

What we have created in this nation is a nearly impenetrable caste system. At the Supreme Court, society’s rules are ultimately interpreted by justices who were indoctrinated by their education to protect the advantages of the ruling class. Yes, a number of them are progressive, a dwindling number. But their Ivy League advantage is really the disadvantage of intellectual inbreeding.

More in Opinion

Deven Mitchell greets his fellow members of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.’s Board of Trustees at the start of his interview to be the APFC’s new executive director on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: It’s an honor to now lead Alaska’s largest renewable resource

As a lifelong Alaskan, leading APFC is my childhood dream come true

Opinion: Freedom in the classroom sets precedence for the future

We advocate for the adoption of legislation to protect students’ First Amendment rights…

A roll of “I Voted” stickers await voters on Election Day in Alaska. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the prospect of a state constitutional convention. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Election winners, losers and poor losers

Tshibaka and Palin misread Alaskans by thinking Trump’s endorsement all but guaranteed they’d win.

This 1981 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an electron micrograph of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV. Children’s hospitals in parts of the country are seeing a distressing surge in RSV, a common respiratory illness that can cause severe breathing problems for babies. Cases fell dramatically two years ago as the pandemic shut down schools, day cares and businesses. Then, with restrictions easing, the summer of 2021 brought an alarming increase in what is normally a fall and winter virus. (CDC via AP)
Alaska Voices: What Alaskans need to know about RSV

By learning more about respiratory illnesses and taking helpful actions, we can all take steps to improve the situation

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Multiplying the power of every local dollar given

Each community foundation is a public charity that focuses on supporting a geographic area by pooling donations to meet community needs

The Homer Public Library as seen on Aug. 18, 2021, in Homer, Alaska. (File photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Point of View: Banning books corrodes diversity and inclusion in our community

Recently, a community member requested that a long list of books be removed from the children’s collection

Peninsula Oilers fans display encouragin signs for Oilers’ pitcher Bryan Woo, Friday, June 28, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: Judging judges — balancing the judicial selection process

Alaska’s method of selecting judges can be and should be improved.

Sarah Palin speaks at a July 11 Save America Rally featuring former President Donald Trump at Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The realities of Palin’s political demise

Palin wouldn’t be running for the seat if Rep. Don Young was still alive

Former Democratic state Rep. Beth Kerttula holds up a sign reading “Vote No Con Con,” during a recent rally at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza in Juneau. Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: What can a liberal and conservative agree on? Voting against a constitutional convention

“We disagree on many issues. But we… urge Alaskans to vote against Proposition 1.”

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Down to the wire: Be prepared before you vote

Remember your voice counts and all votes matter