The Constitution does not require federal judges to have a law education. The same thing is true for justices appointed to the nation’s highest court. However, the degree of difficulty of law questions being resolved in the Supreme Court—from constitutional, to administrative, to admiralty—prompts would-be SC justices to have a solid legal education.
Going to law school, therefore, has become a de facto requirement in gaining admission to the Supreme Court.
That is why it is not surprising that in recent years, the Supreme Court has been swarmed by justices who have graduated from Ivy League law schools. Since 1988, Harvard and Yale graduates have consistently represented a majority of the Court. And with Justice Elena Kagan’s confirmation, there is now but one member of the entire Court who does not have a diploma from either one of the top two law schools: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who graduated from Columbia Law—another Ivy League school.
For the first time in history, every sitting Supreme Court justice has graduated from an Ivy League law school.
However, the question remains: which law schools have produced the most Supreme Court justices? For our resources, we used the Federal Judicial Center and tallied up the law school degrees from all 112 Supreme Court Justices.
1. Harvard Law School: 19
One of the professional graduate schools of Harvard University, Harvard Law School, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States and is home to the largest academic law library in the world.
With 19 alumnae/alumni who became justices of the US Supreme Court (Justice Ginsburg initially enrolled at Harvard, but transferred to Columbia), HLS leads all schools in producing graduates who would be setting up an office at the Marble Palace.
Opportunities to put classroom lessons to work start early at Harvard. Through the school’s Student Practice Organizations, freshmen students can test their legal skills by helping local musicians understand copyright laws or representing state prison inmates at disciplinary hearings, among other opportunities. Older students can partake in HLS legal clinics, the largest offering of any school in the world. All students must complete at least 40 hours of pro bono, or volunteer, work before graduating.
To give legal education a global slant, students can check out the joint J.D./LL.M. program between HLS and the UK’s University of Cambridge or can study abroad for a three-week winter term or a semester.
Among the school’s most prominent alumni are President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as incumbent SC Chief Justice John Roberts.
2. Yale Law School: 10
At the best law school in the US, traditional grades do not exist. In fact, students do not earn any grades at all during their first term at Yale; afterwards, they are graded only by honors, pass, or low pass.
With more than 20 legal clinics, students can immerse themselves in real-life legal experiences as early as their first year. Students represent real clients in domestic violence disputes, apartment eviction proceedings, and so on. In addition to clinical experience, students can test their legal smarts in workshops and on-campus centers.
Among the law school’s most notable alumni are current SC Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor.
3. Columbia Law School: 9
Established in 1858, the Columbia University School of Law is consistently considered to be among the top law schools in America. Given its location and reputation in New York City, its Ivy League affiliation, and its long history of academic excellence, Columbia’s rank and prestige shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
There are about 400 students in each class at Columbia, and law students can choose elective courses as early as the spring of their first year. They can also tack on an additional master’s or doctoral degree to their J.D., completing programs at other Columbia University schools. There is also a joint degree program offered through other institutions, including Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Columbia Law School has special programs to help law students pursuing specific placements, such as judicial clerkships or teaching careers. The school also has about 30 centers on campus, which explore topics as varied as global legal transformation and Israeli legal studies. For a further international slant, law students can study abroad in more than 10 countries and can complete a foreign degree while abroad. Students can live in university housing on the school’s campus in New York City.
4. University of Michigan Law School: 3
Michigan Law is situated on one of the most attractive campuses in the country and located in the vibrant college town of Ann Arbor. This perennial top-10 law school continues to attract applicants of the highest caliber each year, including students from across the country and around the world who are looking for a top-notch legal education in a collaborative environment.
Students at the Michigan Law can get a jump-start on their legal education by beginning in the summer. About a quarter of students enroll in Summer Start, an early education program that transitions students into Michigan Law and gives them more flexibility with course selection later in their academic career. In a typical year, the class at the Law School has about 370 students, roughly split between male and female.
Students can beef up their legal education with a dual degree in areas like Law and Business Administration, Law and Japanese Studies, and Law and Natural Resources. To give the legal education a global slant, all students must take a course in Transnational Law, and law students can spend a semester abroad at Amsterdam Law School, Japan’s Waseda University Law School, or Germany’s Bucerius Law School, to name a few.
There are more than 50 student organizations to get involved in, from the Law School Hockey Team to a rock climbing group called MLaw Rocks, and more than five academic publications to write for.
Notable alumni include former SC Justices George Sutherland, Frank Murphy, and William Rufus Day.