Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Supreme Court and the Ruling Class

Barack Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan is an absolute disaster for the democratic party and for democracy itself. The nomination is just the latest proof of Obama’s obliteration of black politics and his victory over all progressives. Anyone praised by the likes of Joseph Lieberman for moving the court in a “less liberal” direction is a bad bet for the progressive cause.

Kagan could not find one black person worthy to hire as a tenure track law professor when she served as dean of Harvard law school. Indeed, this white woman could find only six white women to hire, out of a total of 32 tenure track positions filled in her tenure.

Yet it is the Harvard connection which is one of the more disturbing elements of the Kagan nomination. If Kagan is confirmed, all nine supreme court justices will have attended either Harvard or Yale universities (Ruth Bader Ginsburg attended Harvard for a time but ultimately graduated from Columbia).

Americans love to believe in their self-aggrandizing myth of a classless society, a meritocracy. In this well rehearsed lie, this country purported to be one in which any individual might rise as a result of hard work and determination.

The fact that only two out of 160 law schools in the country have been deemed worthy for consideration to the highest court is an indicator of a very disturbing change in our society. There is no longer any pretense that this country is a meritocracy. The ever intensifying class stratification is being more and more solidified and is expressed in new and awful ways on a daily basis.

The truly awful justice Antonin Scalia said so himself, out loud and in a public venue. When asked by a student at the American University law school how she could succeed without connections, Scalia at first told her to, “Just work hard and be very good.“ When the discussion moved to the likelihood that she might reach the holy grail of being a clerk for a Supreme Court justice, Scalia set her straight.  He quickly remembered himself and told her the honest truth, that she could pretty much forget about getting anywhere when she attended such a lowly institution.

“By and large I’m going to be picking from the law schools that basically are the hardest to get into. They admit the best and the brightest, and they may not teach very well, but you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse. If they come in the best and the brightest, they’re probably going to leave the best and the brightest, O.K.?”

It isn’t clear what the young woman thought about being referred to as a sow’s ear, but she certainly went home knowing that she shouldn’t even think about venturing out of her place on the class system totem pole.

Kagan’s defenders can’t defend the blank slate technocrat on the merits, they just talk about how wonderful and brilliant she is. Period. That is proof enough of Kagan’s lack of qualifications to serve as a justice on the nation’s highest court and of a more insidious form of corruption at work as Jonathan Turley points out.

Nominations like Kagan’s are the result of a network of graduates who work consciously or unconsciously to see that their own are nominated. Notably, after Kagan’s nomination, powerful figures from her Harvard years came forward to vouch for her abilities. Their message was the same: Despite her lack of a record, she is known in our circle as a real winner. She is, in a phrase, one of us. Indeed, reporters breathlessly reported how Kagan and Scalia are good friends and how she knows many of the main players from Harvard, as if it is the judicial equivalent to having graduated from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The favoritism shown Harvard and Yale should be viewed not just as incestuous but as scandalous. It undermines educational institutions across the country by maintaining a clearly arbitrary and capricious basis for selection. It also runs against the grain of a nation based on meritocracy and opportunity.”

Turley should have said allegedly based on meritocracy and opportunity. I will have more to say about the Kagan nomination and black America in my Black Agenda Report column on Wednesday.