Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been hounded over her qualifications since being named Supreme Court nominee in February. Television personalities have demanded her LSAT score, US senators have parsed reading lists at schools where she sits on the board, and both have belittled her career experience. No one has questioned her credentials or qualifications based on one thing, however, a thing she mentioned three times in the opening remarks of her hearing: she is a Harvard grad.

Over the last 65 years, graduates of only eight law schools have been confirmed for seats on the Supreme Court. Sixty five years ago, President Eisenhower nominated fellow Kansan, Charles Evans Whittaker, who had attended Kansas City School of Law, to the bench. as a conservative-leaning swing vote early in the Warren court, but with every new appointment his legacy in Supreme Court history becomes clearer: he is the last graduate of a public law school appointed to the court.

Since then, senators have given their advice and consent to a steady stream of Ivy Leaguers and others from a small circle of well-known private schools. Justice Amy Coney Barrett is the only nominee in that time from a unique institution, Notre Dame, and she is the only sitting justice not to have earned her degree in New Haven or Cambridge. That will not change when Brown Jackson takes her oath.

Brown Jackson is a landmark appointee, long-overdue representation for Black women and likely to be a tremendous justice. But the 2020 presidential election gave us the first completely non-Ivy winning ticket since Carter-Mondale and a unique opportunity to appoint judges and justices from outside the inner sanctum. Even with President Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman, the pool of immensely qualified jurists included several public law school graduates. Tamika Montgomery-Reeves is the first Black woman to serve on the Delaware Supreme Court, which by virtue of its state’s unique place in corporate America, hears vital and complex issues of business law. Before that appointment, she was an equity court judge and practiced as a litigator in two states. J. Michelle Childs is a federal judge in the District of South Carolina and former state appellate judge. She was also a partner at her firm before becoming Deputy Director of the South Carolina Labor Department and Commissioner of the State’s Workers’ Compensation Commission. They graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law and the University of South Carolina School of Law, respectively.

Here in New Hampshire, where there is only one law school in the state and it happens to be public, there are currently zero public-law-school-educated federal district court judges. This may reflect a bigger problem in the legal profession. Trial judges are usually nominated from a pool of senior attorneys at noted law firms and government agencies, many of whom were law clerks. If our district, which again, contains no private law schools, cannot produce publicly educated judges, it must be because our judicial pipeline is most open to attorneys trained at private schools, which necessarily means trained out of state.

The appointment of a Black woman to the court is important and worth celebrating because perspectives are important. Jurisprudence is best served when courts are populated with judges with diverse experiences, diverse backgrounds, and diverse educations. Right now, half as many members of this country’s highest and most visible court graduated from non-Ivy law schools as were in high school at Georgetown Prep in 1982 alone. By overlooking publicly educated attorneys, we are overlooking those who for financial or other reasons could not win seats in often exclusionary private legacy institutions. In the interest of rich, diverse opinions and a strong, representative judiciary, I hope this administration will consider more educational backgrounds in judicial nominations, especially to the Supreme Court. And to make that happen, I hope that employers will open their doors to publicly educated associates and clerks to build a diverse bench of potential future judges.

 

Brandon Latham is a first-year law student at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce Law Center from Merrimack.