Apropos of our discussion about the rise of credentialism (as opposed to education) in America, I was reminded of this splendid piece by my friend Walter Shapiro, writing in the late Politics Daily on AOL last year in the run-up to Elena Kagan’s appointment to the Supreme Court:
Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that members of the Supreme Court must be lawyers. But a long line of activist presidents – both Democrats and Republicans – have altered the original intent of the Framers so that a degree from an Eastern elitist law school is now almost a constitutional necessity. If Elena Kagan (Harvard Law ‘86) is confirmed for the Court, all nine justices would have received their legal training at Harvard or Yale.
This is one of those moments when you sense that American democracy is more of a rigged game than they taught you back in high school civics classes. Few object to a meritocracy in which people, regardless of family backgrounds, are judged by what they have accomplished in life. But should that binding decision have been made by the admissions committees at two law schools when the applicants were still in their early 20s? Imagine a guidance counselor shouting, “Future Supreme Court justices over here. Everyone else, best of luck with your legal careers – if you don’t aim too high.”
Once the criterion was Harvard, Yale or bust, it was almost inevitable that Elena Kagan, the former dean of guess-what-law-school, would have been tapped for the Supreme Court. This is not an exaggeration. Let’s do the math together.
There follows an exercise in reductio ad absurdism as Shapiro eliminates from the possible pool of candidates anyone who doesn’t fit the East Coast Elite/Media Complex–approved guidelines involving not just schooling but age, sex, class standing, political affiliation, religion, etc. Which gets us to:
Drum roll, please, maestro. We have gone from 10,000 potential Supreme Court justices to exactly two – Kagan and Federal Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland (Harvard Law ‘77). Kagan won the presidential coin toss, so Garland will be kept in reserve if another vacancy opens up. Because the enduring motto of the Supreme Court remains – equal justice under law from Harvard and Yale.
Except that, of course, it’s not at all absurd — it’s the way things work now. If anyone’s prepared to argue that this is a good thing, let’s hear it.