A Point About Amy Coney Barrett

…which I haven’t seen much discussed:  Her education was an undergraduate degree at Rhodes College (English literature, French), followed by a law degree (Juris Doctor) from Notre Dame.

What’s so unusual about that, you ask?  Just this:  every single current Justice has a law degree from Harvard or Yale.  Ginsburg started at Harvard Law, but transferred to Columbia.  Scallia also went to HLS.   So, if ACB is confirmed, she will become the first recent Justice who did not graduate from, or even attend, the apparently-sacred duo of Harvard and Yale.

Does it matter that the Supreme Court has been so completely dominated by graduates of two universities?  Here’s something Peter Drucker (himself of European origins) wrote back in 1969:

It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers. It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the engineer with a degree from North Idaho A and M is an engineer and not a draftsman. Yet this is the flexibility that Europe needs in order to overcome the brain drain and to close the technology gap…the European who knows himself competent because he is not accepted as such–because he is not an “Oxbridge” man or because he did not graduate from one of the Grandes Ecoles and become an Inspecteur de Finance in the government service–will continue to emigrate where he will be used according to what he can do rather than according to what he has not done.


The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim.

The US has come a lot closer to accepting such a claim on the part of HLS than it had when Drucker wrote the above.  Admissions officers at Ivy League schools have been allowed by our society to effectively claim way too much discretionary power over the filling of key roles throughout government and elsewhere.  The way in which this discretionary power has been too often exercised can be glimpsed in the analysis showing that Harvard consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than others on traits like “positive personality,” likability, courage, kindness and being “widely respected.  (Academic bureaucrats rating people on courage?)

Questions might also be asked about the internal academic cultures within universities to which so much power has been given: for example, a recent FIRE survey of free speech on campus found that 37% of Ivy League students say that shouting down a speaker is “always” or “sometimes” acceptable, compared to 26% of students not enrolled at Ivy League colleges.  And almost 1 in 5 Ivy League students find it “always” or “sometimes” acceptable to block other students from entering a campus event, compared to roughly 1 in 10 of non-Ivy students.  Way too much repressive thinking on American campuses these days; even worse at the Ivy League, evidently, than elsewhere.

I haven’t heard any publicly-stated objections to ACB’s non-Ivy background, and I certainly don’t think it’s a primary factor in the objections to her nomination, but I do wonder if it is influencing some individuals behind the scenes.

More importantly, though, this possible exception to what would otherwise be the Harvard-and-Yale-only rule for Justices points out just how much power these universities have garnered to themselves and to their selected graduates.





17 thoughts on “A Point About Amy Coney Barrett”

  1. Harvard & Yale have power only because we give them that power. Instead, make a personal point of mocking every Harvard/Yale graduate you meet. Laugh at them. Make them defend their racist discrimination (because Americans of Chinese heritage and people too, you know). Ask them why their huge endowments are not distributed to the poor? Avoid doing business with Harvard/Yale types whenever possible — and let them know why you are not doing business with them.

    And treat the politicized Supreme Court with the contempt it deserves. The sooner someone develops an Artificial Intelligence which can replace Supreme Court judges, the better. It should be fairly straightforward logical programming — is a law consistent with the plain language of the Constitution? A machine should be able to do that well. Only a politicized (despicable) Supreme Court (In)Justice can see penumbras.

  2. I’ve seen this mentioned quite a few times. Instapundit I believe linked to articles referencing it. Heck, it’s been a point in her favor for the last few years now. Although to be honest I think the real behind-the-scenes anger is the fact that she has so many kids, and a great job, and a great husband, and seems to be nice and happy. That’s not supposed to be possible.

  3. I am not convinced that lawyers should be judges, at all.

    To my mind, adjudicating the law ought to be performed by those who have nothing to do with either making it or gaming it. Lawyers should advise both making law and adjudicating it, certainly, but making decisions about the overall morality and operation of the courts…? Nope.

    I think that judges ought to be respected members of the community, there to enforce the values and mores of said community. Lawyers are not disinterested parties, and usually lack morals or values of any sort whatsoever.

    Hell, to go even further, I think that if you’re a lawyer or a member of any legal profession whatsover, your franchise ought to be given up in order to take up that trade. Putting someone whose interest is in complicating and confusing the law in charge of making it is sheer insanity–Like putting your local fox and coyote in charge of security at your henhouse. You want to make a career of the law, kiss goodbye to your right to vote or be a legislator. Lawyers should certainly serve the legislature in terms of an advisory capacity, but past that? Forget it. We’re living through what happens when you let lawyers run everything, and the effects are obvious.

    I’d strongly suggest that the Supreme Court is the last place lawyers ought to serve, period. Advise the court? Yes. Make decisions? Hell, no. That ought to be left to prominent and accomplished laymen, just like the rest of the judiciary.

  4. Another example of a college degree being more a credential than an education since employers are no longer allowed to evaluate on a candidate’s aptitude for the job.

  5. Our experience with Barry should have put one of the final nails in the coffin of Yale-Harvard superiority. Perhaps the final one will be confirmation of Amy.


  6. It’s worth noting that Clarence Thomas has been bucking this trend in picking his clerks.

    I don’t even think that all of us on the Court should be from the Ivy leagues and from just one part of the country. I have a preference actually for non-Ivy league law clerks, simply because I think clerks should come from a wide range of backgrounds. And I don’t have that pedigree. I’m not a part of this new or faux nobility…

    And people have been noticing (and in some cases disapproving) of the influence Thomas’s former clerks are having, especially with the Trump administration. E.g.
    [ https://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/516109-trumps-supreme-court-list-reveals-influence-of-clarence-thomas ]

  7. Notre Dame isn’t exactly out of the main stream but it is a change. The burn from Roberts’ opinions isn’t likely to heal since they show no signs of improvement. I’ll just have to wait and see what she does, like the rest of us.

    One of the quotes in the article “Deep Lurker” cited:
    “Justice Thomas teaches us, by his example, not only the importance of a principles-driven approach to the law but the larger imperative of sticking to those principles when the going gets tough,” said Walker, who worked on judicial selections as an associate White House counsel to former President George W. Bush.

    This is as far away from the Roberts doctrine, if he has one, as you can get. A lot of us will be very sorry to see Thomas go.

  8. Roberts has a definite doctrine, and it’s just the worldview of the GOPe–conservatives are docile chumps who can get a bit of rhetorical soothing but can be safely ignored, and the left must be appeased to avoid rocking the boat too much.
    He, like the Bush wing of the party, ended up radicalizing the right, and they show no signs of being intelligent enough to recognize it.
    Their ilk is finished, consigned to the trash heap of history.

  9. We saw that with Bush I when he called Supply Side “Voodoo Economics.” Reagan had to take him, I suppose, because the GOPe still thought Reagan was a wild man.

    The Democrats tolerated Reagan because he let them spend while they let him win the Cold War. Supply side really did increase tax revenues but Democrats still spent faster.

  10. The GOPe still thinks Reagan was a wild man. They did their best to purge the GOP of Reaganites, small-government conservatives, and (small l) libertarians after he left office.

    “I believe Reagan made a mistake when he chose Bush as his vice-presidential candidate – indeed, I regard it as the worst decision not only of his campaign but of his presidency.” – Milton Friedman.

  11. One of our friends’ daughters went to Catholic school, then to the University of Dallas and then to Notre Dame for law; my sense is that this was because of her parent’ rather intense (father converted) Roman Catholicism. This made Notre Dame a higher notch for some than Ivy but also outside Ivy, in a category of its own. Does anyone know if my instinct is relevant or irrelevant? Certainly that strong Catholic allegiance is part of what makes Barrett unusual (well, in a sense – given Scalia and Thomas – I’m not sure of the others, but they are clearly people in whom, as Feinstein would put it, “the dogma lives”).

  12. Well, it seems to be a historical artifact since Yale, among others, is recruiting by skin color rather than by intelligence or capability. The Progressives may find that acceptablefor the herd, but third rate is unlikely to be acceptable to the elite. They talk “diversity” but have no interest or tolerance for being victims of that theology. They know that Yale may be a refuge for the defectives, but I doubt that they will tolerate being controlledf by the “GhettoKin”.

    Dim for thee, but not for me.

    Yale, et al, graduates can make rules for the corner bodega but the Uniparty still has standards. Deviant standards, but still standards.

    That means that the “normies” will get screwed from above and below. We may need new terms for physical “rape” vs. ideological “rape”, even it doesn’t matter to the GhettoKin that Yale & Co. inflict upon the Republic.

    Isn’t “Ivy” in Ivy-League a type of poison Ivy? Both make me itch.

    Jes’ sayin’.

  13. ND has (had?) appeal to a very specific set of Catholics. It’s not such a big deal to Italians, for instance.

  14. Christopher B…”Another example of a college degree being more a credential than an education since employers are no longer allowed to evaluate on a candidate’s aptitude for the job.”

    That’s really overstated. Almost all jobs that are advertised include experience requirement, which do provide some indications of aptitude for a particular kind of work. Almost all hiring involves interviews, and a good interviewer can tell a lot about fit of the individual to the job. And testing is not nearly as banned as is often believed–for example, the hiring site Indeed.com offers a whole range of online skills tests for various kinds of jobs. And, as far as I know, people hiring programmers are still asking candidates to ‘write me up some code for this problem’ and people hiring programmers are still asking candidates to ‘sell me an X’ (this pencil, for example)

  15. I would be skeptical of an on-line test where it’s so easy to look up the answer while you’re taking the test. Knowing which answer is actually right might be a barrier but not a very reliable one.

    I took a stab at making a short test that I could just hand to a candidate and then go over with him. I’m not sure that the only people I weeded out weren’t the ones with panic disorder. I found out that there were people better at lying than I was at detecting it. Then there are the ones that know the right way but don’t actually do it. In the end, I was still mostly going on my judgement that has produced some outstanding people and some real nightmares.

    For any sort of technical job, the first layer or two will be composed of HR drones that have zero knowledge. Getting through them is just a matter of checking the right boxes and using the right buzz words.

    Google was famously fond of puzzles at one time. When they went back to examine who they hired, they dropped the puzzles. A lot of the coding tests I’ve seen are on the same level and might weed out the worst of the fabulists but not the worst programmers.

    Most jobs are specific enough that you’re better off finding someone that can learn what they need to know quickly than someone with a lot of generalized knowledge. How exactly you do that has certainly been a nontrivial problem for me.

    None of this is particularly applicable to picking a Supreme Court Justice. Where it’s usually impossible to get any reliable information on the prior performance of a prospective employee, we are usually dealing with a sitting judge or a law professor and often enough, both. Just wading through the volume of information publicly available is a challenge. At this point, their law school affiliation probably matters about as much as their eighth grade math grades. If Harvard/Yale are intent on indoctrinating their graduates, the fact that these graduates now occupy both sides and the middle of the ideological divide on the court shows they aren’t very good at it.

  16. Absolutely true, Harvard and Yale in particular feed only three pipelines

    1. Your families financial business (bankers, investment houses) about 35% of the graduating class)
    2. Prestige biomed and MD pathways – about 20%
    3. Government (pre-law, history, economics) 20-30%

    The rest are the traditional sciences, arts etc. The women’s studies majors are astonishingly small in terms of graduates. These other undergrads are often inferior in total learning to other USA universities as they are still given a huge leg up in prestige.

    The distribution of CEO’s of USA companies is totally different with many state schools etc.

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