"The founders of (historically black) institutions knew, of course, that inequality would persist long into the future. They recognized that barriers in our laws, and in our hearts, wouldn't vanish overnight. But they also recognized a larger truth; a distinctly American truth. They recognized that with the right education, those barriers might be overcome and our God-given potential might be fulfilled." That's what President Obama told the graduating class at Hampton University when he delivered their commencement address on Sunday.
NBC News and other media outlets are reporting that on Monday President Obama will nominate Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.
The "distinctly American truth" is that if you don't have a law degree from Harvard, Yale, or Columbia you don't have the "right education" to attain the "God-given potential" to be a Supreme Court justice. Harvard, Yale, and Columbia are three of the 199 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association -- about 1.5 percent of the total -- and produce about 3 percent of law school graduates annually, yet graduates of the three most elite Ivy League law schools will fill 100 percent of the nine seats on the U.S. Supreme Court. Apparently the graduates of the 196 other ABA accredited law schools didn't get the "right education" to acquire "God-given potential" to serve on the nation's top court. Spin it however you like, but facts are facts, and that's the "larger truth" we confront.
Graduating from one of the three most elite Ivy League law schools is not the sole criteria to attain the "God-given potential" for the high court. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, more than half of Americans are Protestants and about one in four is Catholic or Jewish. The composition of the Supreme Court will be 0 percent Protestant and 100 percent Catholic or Jewish. Apparently God-given potential to dispense justice is vested unevenly among the religious faiths.
That's not to slight Harvard, Yale, or Columbia or to disparage Catholics or Jews -- the extraordinary accomplishments of many identified by one or more of those descriptors can't be disputed -- but is it the distinctly American truth that there are so few who are so blessed to be so uniquely enabled to wear the black robes? From the many threads that make up the American tapestry are there only two special strands worthy of being plucked for a seat on the Supreme Court bench?
In 2003, while serving as Dean of the Harvard Law School, Ms. Kagan spoke out against the Defense Department's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. She wrote, "I abhor the military's discriminatory recruitment policy," a policy she called "a profound wrong -- a moral injustice of the first order." Isn't the educational and religious elitism that results in a Supreme Court composed of nine people who all come from an exceptionally narrow set of characteristics compared to their fellow citizens a form of inequality and discrimination? When the opportunity to serve is limited to Catholics and Jews from the three most elite Ivies there is a barrier that has slammed the door shut for all others. It's not just don't ask, don't tell; it's don't bother applying.