High Court Has Deep Ivy Roots

by David Halbrook
June 3, 2010

Editor of the American Roundtable, David Halbrook also serves as PHC’s Director of Communications. He is a former award-winning journalist, Pulitzer Prize nominee, and co-author of five books, with extensive experience in corporate Christian and para-church communications. Read full bio.

Bookmark and Share

A recent story in the Washington Post began: “Ivy has twirled itself around the marble columns of the Supreme Court like some smarty-pants weed…” and “if Solicitor General and former Harvard law School dean Elena Kagan is confirmed… the Ivy League’s grip on the court will be complete.”

This Ivy-entangled grip, the authors observed, means that, should Kagan gain confirmation, “every sitting justice will have attended either Yale or Harvard law schools.” Noting that fully half of the high court’s justices throughout history have attended an Ivy League school, a percentage that jumped to 64 percent in the past 50 years, the authors conceded that if Kagan wins a High Court seat, “the trend might as well become law.”

Quoting Timothy P. O’Neill, a professor at the John Marshall School of Law in Chicago, an Ivy League diploma is shorthand for: “This person is objective and scientific and will come to the single best decision unswayed by personal bias.”

“The Harvard and Yale pedigree,” he added, “became a way to defuse the ideological split. We know how powerful the court is – now we have to pretend it exists above ideology. Brains trump ideology.” As well it should, in most cases.

Facts don’t lie: Ivy League grads have for decades streamed into the nation’s highest positions of influence in law, politics, business, entertainment, and media. In his probing book, The Joshua Generation, Patrick Henry College Founder and Chancellor Dr. Michael Farris observed, “Elite academic education is the proven path toward leadership in most spheres of cultural influence. But where is it leading us?” The truth is, we do want judges who are objective and unbiased and will honestly apply the law. But does an Ivy League degree automatically confer that quality of objectivity?

His nationwide survey of elite college faculty persuaded him that, “the more elite the institution, the more likely it is that the left has achieved nearly total control of the ideological machinery of the institution.” The result: an ever-expanding, profoundly influential platform from which to adjudicate and institutionalize the distorted beliefs, philosophies, and principles that today threaten to overtake America. 

This ingrained Ivy pipeline to the highest courts and seats of power is likely to pull us along the present path at an escalating pace. In 2006, Kagan herself, as Dean of Harvard Law School, made national news announcing that first-year Harvard law students would, henceforth, focus on the study of international law. Why: because that’s when students learn how “to think about the law.”

In 2003, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer declared at an international law consortium that “comparative analysis emphatically is relevant to the task of interpreting constitutions and enforcing human rights.” Translation: the Supreme Court will increasingly use international law to interpret American law, including the U.S. Constitution.

Such statements, by now core doctrines at elite law schools and in the back-room deliberations of our highest courts, play tactically into what we see cascading into the cultural cracks and shifts of a “post-Christian” America. Elite, Ivy-educated jurists with a Europe-fixation are pushing an agenda that now intrudes into our public and private lives. Expect increasing judicial encroachment into the control of property rights, environmental policy, marital issues, education, life, and much more. Proponents say it’s about diversity and freedom, but, to quote Dr. Farris, “the brand of diversity that is worshiped embraces all lifestyles, all philosophies – provided that those lifestyles and philosophies hold conservatives (and especially conservative Christianity) in disdain.”

The Ivies will keep pumping graduates into the American marketplace, with expected results. Patrick Henry College strives to prepare Christian leaders to compete on that same playing field, attracting some of the nation’s brightest, highly motivated Christian students. After years of cultural abdication by evangelicals, many PHC graduates who love Jesus are now vying for positions traditionally held by their Harvard and Yale counterparts. The hope is that the deep grounding students receive in U.S.  Constitutional law, America’s founding principles, and in Christian worldview and biblical studies, equips PHC grads to responsibly take a seat among the nation’s academic elite.

Ten years after PHC’s launch, three of its graduates have attended (one recently graduated from) Harvard Law School. Many others attend the top law schools and postgraduate schools in the country; alumni are paying dues and landing some extraordinary opportunities. The College’s legal debate program, exemplifying PHC’s mission to defend biblical truth while winsomely engaging the culture, prepares students to literally argue cases before the Supreme Court. It has won four of the past six national ACMA championships.

If, in the weeks to come, Elena Kagan is confirmed to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, the ivy will creep tighter around the Supreme Court’s marble columns. One can only hope and pray that a new generation may begin to loosen the stranglehold, and slowly reverse a decades-long trend.