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Jon Cowan
Non-profit leader

Jon Cowan

Jonathan Cowan is president and co-founder of Third Way, a think-tank of the progressive movement. In the Clinton administration, he served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ready for legal combat

Q: Elena Kagan's nomination has raised the prospect of an "all-Ivy" Supreme Court. Is it a good idea for any institution, or any sector of society, to rely so heavily on a handful of elite universities to educate and train its leaders?

Being a Dartmouth grad, I probably should recuse myself from answering this question. But disclosure in place, I think the question has it backwards. The fact that the Justices all attended Ivies likely speaks more to their being highly ambitious achievers from a young age than to the limits of a somewhat insular educational world-view.

And while many institutions do not benefit from having leaders drawn from such a small pool, the Supreme Court is one of the most demanding intellectual battle fields in the country, and training and the competitive rigors of a top-flight school can't hurt in that legal combat.

More broadly, with nominees hailing from this small set of schools, it makes the leading progressive argument about Supreme Court nominees - that candidates must demonstrate "empathy" and bring a "real-world perspective" to their judging - a fairly tough case to make credibly. President Obama and Democrats would do far better basing their support for candidates on those who embody a progressive judicial philosophy rather than a particular set of life experiences.

By Jon Cowan

 |  May 18, 2010; 5:34 AM ET
Category:  Leadership development Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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