23 May 2010

Demographics of the U.S. Supreme Court

As noted by a BBC columnist:
The nomination of Elena Kagan to replace the retiring John Paul Stevens on the US Supreme Court means, if she is confirmed, all of the justices will have been at either Harvard or Yale law schools...

If Ms Kagan is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, there will be five from Harvard law school, three from Yale law school and one from Columbia law school. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg started out at Harvard law school before transferring to Columbia.,,

For much of its history, a geographical spread of justices was the top priority, notes Peter Hoffer, distinguished research professor at the University of Georgia, and co-author of The Supreme Court: An Essential History.

"Theoretically, the court is supposed to be divided among different parts of the country. Now we have gone past that - we are one nation, connected by the web and the media - that kind of geographical distinction is not so important any more."

After the need for geographical diversity of the court ebbed, other priorities emerged.

"As late as the 1960s you had a Catholic seat and a Jewish seat to ensure some kind of representation. It's rather ironic that now you have six Catholics and three Jews," says Prof Joel B Grossman, co-editor of The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Of course, with a small group of people, it's hard not to have some imbalances.  "There is only a limited number of ways you can divide up nine," says Prof Grossman.

Talking Points Memo emphasizes the New-York-City-centeredness of some of Obama's appointments:
Barack Obama's vision of American justice seems a bit parochial, with Attorney General Eric Holder hailing from the New York City borough of Queens; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg coming from a once-proud, upwardly mobile Jewish section of Brooklyn that contains her alma mater Abraham Lincoln High School and is near Coney Island; Justice Sonya Sotomayor coming from a public housing project in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the South Bronx; and, now Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan coming from a part of Manhattan's Upper West Side....

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