As has been noted endlessly since President Obama nominated Elena Kagan last week to succeed John Paul Stevens, her likely confirmation will mean that all nine Supreme Court justices attended and/or taught at Ivy League law schools.
This helps explain why a goodly number of conservative legal academics, among them Stephen Bainbridge, Eugene Volokh and Charles Fried, are downright enthusiastic about Kagan or at least don't oppose her. Paul Campos correctly notes that this is because of legal tribalism. In other words, Kagan is one of their tribe and that trumps ideological differences.
Campos casts this tribalism in a less than flattering light because, in his view and mine, legal academia is vapid, getting tenure is a snap, professors can get away with publishing little, and what they do publish is not subject to peer review as is the case with many other disciplines.
Now that we've established that the lofty towers of legal academia are exercises in back scratching, let's move on to the main event.
If the Ivy League law schools (and the University of Chicago, as well) are such hot shit, then why is the legal profession full of fee churners. hoodlums and other ethically challenged shingle hangers who seldom are called out, let alone disciplined by peer associations (are you paying attention John Yoo?), while the American criminal and civil justice systems are only marginally functional and the case law made by the Roberts court an orgy of judicial activism?
I acknowledge that to an extent we're talking apples and oranges here.
A direct line cannot be drawn from the hallowed halls of Harvard Law to lawyers who roll elderly widows, a capital punishment system that ices blacks and other minorities far out of proportion to whites, that being able to afford a big-shot lawyer considerably increases your chances of walking, and the Constitution is too often treated not as the bedrock of our legal system but as an instrument that is to be ignored when it is an inconvenience and twisted out of shape when it can't be ignored?
Shouldn't Harvard Law and its ilk be setting the standard in real-world legal scholarship, legal accountability and legal reform and ethics? Of course they should, but as the search through Kagan's academic record shows, Harvard Law might as well be called La La Law.
Long story short, we know little of substance from her years in Cambridge because there was little of substance.