I’ve been wrestling with this claim for two days. Somehow it’s easy to believe and impossible to believe all at once.
As he sifts through SCOTUS choices, Trump has been telling people he wants someone with a degree from Harvard or Yale, per a source familiar with the conversations.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) June 29, 2018
A guy who got elected sneering at the “elites” and who continues to sneer at them to this day cannot possibly be so much of a hypocrite that he’d tell staff to find him someone from America’s two most famous incubators of elitism. Particularly not when literally every current member of the Supreme Court has a pedigree at either Harvard or Yale. (Eight of the nine graduated from one of the two law schools; Ginsburg started at Harvard Law and ended up transferring to Columbia.) If ever there was a president who should be determined to look beyond the usual elitist gatekeepers and insist on a nominee who *isn’t* from Harvard or Yale, it’s Trump. Besides, to the extent that he has a Harvard/Yale itch, he should have already scratched it with Gorsuch, a Harvard Law grad from the Class of ’91. It’s impossible to believe.
But wait. It’s not just Haberman of the Times who hears the Harvard/Yale rumblings. WaPo hears it too:
Trump has told advisers he is looking for three overarching attributes in a replacement for Kennedy. First, one adviser said, Trump insists upon an “extraordinarily well qualified” nominee with a superlative résumé. The president is especially drawn to contenders with name-brand degrees, such as from Ivy League universities such as Harvard or Yale. He also wants to see a portfolio of solid academic writing, though this adviser acknowledged that Trump does not care to read it; he simply wants to know it exists.
Of course he wants a nominee from Harvard or Yale. For all his populist blather about the elites, the man is obsessed with status. There are a thousand examples, most of them petty — the best ratings, the biggest inauguration crowds, the greatest economy ever. His Trump Tower apartment is famously decorated in garish gold and marble a la Louis XIV, overwhelming visitors with evidence of the president’s wealth. The detail in the excerpt about him wanting an impressive body of academic writing but not wanting to read it is him all over: It’s the credential he craves, not necessarily the thought behind it. Naturally he’d want his SCOTUS nominees to be the “best,” and the byword for “best” in academia, fairly or not, is Harvard and Yale. It’s all too easy to believe.
Interestingly, of the seven or so people who seem to be in the mix for the nomination, just one is a Harvard or Yale grad. That would be Brett Kavanaugh, coincidentally (or probably not coincidentally) one of the two alleged finalists. The others skew towards the midwest with a few coastal outliers: Raymond Kethledge got his law degree at Michigan, Amy Coney Barrett at Notre Dame, Joan Larsen at Northwestern, Mike Lee at BYU, Amul Thapar at Berkeley, and Tom Hardiman at Georgetown. Don Willett, who was elevated to the Fifth Circuit last year and whose name has also been kicked around, went to Duke. As the Yalie and as someone seen as a rising star in righty judicial circles since his career began, Kavanaugh is the closest thing to a “straight out of central casting” choice, another thing that appeals to Trump. But he comes with political baggage, having assisted with the legal tussling in Florida after the 2000 election and having worked before that as a Ken Starr deputy on the Clinton investigation. This bit from one of David Brock’s books is circulating today:
Judge Brett Kavanaugh is at or near top of SCOTUS list, per several people close to President Trump. But oppo research for possible hearings already moving fast. Sources pt'ing to David Brock's book "Blinded by the Right." Kav alleged to have mouthed an expletive re HRC. Pg. 306. pic.twitter.com/k10MbCm4RR
— Robert Costa (@costareports) July 2, 2018
No conservative nominee will have an easy confirmation but Kavanaugh’s history in partisan politics may make it impossible for Democrats to support him, requiring all 50 Republicans to bite the bullet to get him through. I’m not sure any other nominee is in the same position. Even Barrett might grab a vote or two from panicky red-state Democrats like Manchin if her dodging on Roe during confirmation hearings is artful enough. Kavanaugh may be the only one who starts with a party-line vote, not including Mike Lee, who likely starts with less than that.
Exit question: If Kavanaugh is too difficult to confirm and Barrett would trigger culture-war armageddon, why not Kethledge?