U.S. Supreme Court

Does Supreme Court have a 'coastal perspective'? Kagan and Sotomayor reflect on homogeneity

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In appearances last week, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan noted that the Supreme Court’s justices share many similarities.

The Washington Post and the New York Times have stories highlighting the homogeneity and noting the justices’ comments.

There are five Catholic and three Jewish justices. Five attended Harvard Law School (though Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg jumped from Harvard to Columbia), and three attended Yale Law School. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is the only justice who didn’t grow up on the East or West Coast. Kagan is the only justice who wasn’t a federal appeals judge.

Both Kagan and Sotomayor said more diversity would help public confidence in the court. But that doesn’t mean it will change. “The Supreme Court is never going to be a melting pot reflective of the country,” Sotomayor said at a 10th Circuit Bench and Bar Conference.

Speaking to University of Arizona law students, Kagan said there is value to having justices with judicial experience or other legal involvement. “You don’t want a court of free-floating philosophers. You want a court of people who really care about law and are good at doing it and are experienced at doing it,” she said.

Kagan commented on the lack of geographic diversity, saying many justices spend a large part of their lives in Washington, D.C., New York and Boston, the Arizona Daily Star reported. “I think more than gender, race or ethnicity, it really does have to do with this kind of coastal perspective,” Kagan said.

Even though the court lacks diversity in religion, law schools and experience, the justices are still very different people, Sotomayor said. Justice Clarence Thomas and Sotomayor both attended Yale Law School, both were the first in their families to attend college, and both were minority trailblazers. Yet they have broad disagreement on the law.

“You would think Clarence Thomas and I would be more similar, wouldn’t you, if you looked just at our background and upbringing?” Sotomayor asked.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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