Nothing wrong, of course, with being smart and motivated at an early age. But legal scholars say the modern Court is defined by a paradox. By historical standards, it has a strong measure of demographic diversity, with three women, an African-American, and a Hispanic-American. It has ideological diversity, with the cleavage between liberal and conservative factions obvious in countless decisions. In terms of life experience, however, its members occupy an increasingly narrow stand of American life.

In the past, the Court had former elected officials like former Arizona state Sen. Sandra Day O’Connor, former California Gov. Earl Warren, or even former president William Howard Taft. It had justices like William O. Douglas who blazed through key jobs in the New Deal as a young man and then served on the court for 36 years and 211 days, a record. It also had people like Justice Harry Blackmun, whose early legal career was not defined by prestigious clerkships and appellate court tenures, but by working as counsel for the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota — a background that would be unlikely to produce a nominee today.

These kind of life experiences gave these justices a feel for the concrete human dimension of public policy questions. Most Washington professionals — journalists included — approach the same questions through a prism of abstraction and emotional distance.