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?
When George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the court, it brought only the second black justice to the US Supreme Court. Reagan and Clinton nominated the first two women, and President Obama the first Latina. Now Elana Kagan will be the fourth woman and first with no judicial experience.
Supreme Court nominees of the last 25 years have looked different in a number of ways--there's surely there is more gender, racial, and religious diversity. With Kagan's likely confirmation, however, three justices will have graduated from Yale Law School, five from Harvard, and one from Columbia--who incidentally began her law school career at Yale. Though they surely had a variety of experiences within their respective schools, and though legal education and training may be a more subtle marker of diversity, Supreme Court justices ought to reflect diversity in more ways than skin color, belief system, and sex.
With all the justices coming from three law schools, there is certainly going to be more commonalities in terms of legal training, skill development, and approach than if the justices had graduated from a variety of different institutions from all over the country, learning from different schools with different approaches.
The value of diversity is not captured in a photograph; it is realized when different perspectives are brought to the table that were shaped by varying experiences. To have almost 90 percent of the justices come from just two schools limits the full expression of what diversity should really mean.--Sean Holiday
What 'The Simpsons' teaches
It is not very wise for an institution or sector of society to rely on a handful of schools and organizations for the development of their leaders. Doing so weakens an institution's ability to adapt in a changing environment. Not only is adaptive capacity vital in a landscape that constantly shifts, but ignoring diversity also narrows the perspective by which that institution sees the world.
If the Supreme Court had been designed only for those with an Ivy League background, then the institution itself would have missed out on many landmark leaders, which include Berkeley graduate Earl Warren, who was one of the most revered and admired Chief Justices in history.
When asked the question "too smart to lead?" I am reminded of one particular episode of The Simpsons where a group of Springfield's smartest citizens end up running the city. All members of the new governing body shared high IQs, had innovative ideas, and the drive to develop an ideal city. Despite an energetic start, a combination of arrogance, greed, and a lack of understanding of what the residents of Springfield desired led to the group's downfall. Leave it to the Simpsons to show us a key component of good governance: the ability for leaders to listen and adapt to one's surrounding.
Whether it's Athens, the Soviet Union, or even Springfield, the age of old tale of decline for institutions and sectors of societies are usually determined by that institution's adaptability. While its natural for organizations to rely on a few institutions for their leadership due to experience, legitimacy, networks, and tradition, such habits could potentially deny organizations and societies the potential that outside perspectives can bring. Diversity is power, because diversity is a critical element of adaptive capacity. --Jimmy Duong
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