Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

NY Times: The Road To A Supreme Court Clerkship Starts At Three Ivy League Colleges; 'You Can’t Scrub Your Undergraduate Degree With An Elite Law Degree'

New York Times Sidebar:  The Road to a Supreme Court Clerkship Starts at Three Ivy League Colleges, by Adam Liptak:

Harvard Yale PrincetonWhen Ted Cruz attended Harvard Law School, he liked to study with people who had undergraduate degrees from Harvard, Yale or Princeton. “He said he didn’t want anybody from ‘minor Ivies’ like Penn or Brown,” one of his law school roommates told GQ.

That may strike you as slicing the baloney of elitism awfully thin. But a new study has found that Supreme Court justices do much the same thing in selecting their law clerks [Tracey George (Vanderbilt; Google Scholar), Albert Yoon (Toronto; Google Scholar) & Mitu Gulati (Virginia; Google Scholar), Some Are More Equal Than Others: U.S. Supreme Court Clerkships].

It is not news that the justices favor a handful of law schools in doling out clerkships, a glittering credential that all but guarantees success in a profession obsessed with status markers. But the study adds another factor: To get a clerkship, it really helps to have gone to college at Harvard, Yale or Princeton. ...

Each justice typically hires four law clerks per term. The study, which collected data on the 1,426 former clerks in the 40-year period ending in 2020, found that more than two-thirds of them attended just five law schools: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia and the University of Chicago. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., for instance, chose 58 clerks in the period covered by the study, 37 of them from Harvard or Yale. ...

The bottom line, Professor George said, is that the road to a Supreme Court clerkship starts in college. “Elite law school degrees don’t repair or overcome a lower-status undergraduate degree,” she said. “You can’t scrub your undergraduate degree with a law degree.”

The justices themselves are products of elite educations. Eight of them attended law school at Harvard or Yale, and six of them have undergraduate degrees from Harvard, Yale or Princeton. And six of them had themselves served as law clerks at the Supreme Court.

There can be a clubby quality to the justices’ remarks about the schools they attended. Chief Justice Roberts, who has two Harvard degrees, was asked in 2009 whether Supreme Court justices “could relate to ordinary folks.”

The chief justice said he wanted to dispel a myth. “Not all justices went to elite institutions,” he said. “Some of them went to Yale.”

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