Ivy League honors conservative justices by not honoring them

Law professor John McGinnis finds that Ivy League schools are giving short shrift to conservative Supreme Court justices when they confer honorary degrees. Is anyone surprised?

The numbers are stark.

Of the fourteen honorary degrees bestowed by Ivy League institutions to living Supreme Court justices twelve went to those on the left of the Court.

Justice Ginsburg is the champ: she has an honorary degree from every Ivy League university except Cornell and Cornell does not award honorary degrees. And she is by some political science measures the farthest to the left on the Court.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has two such degrees (Princeton, Yale) and Stephen Breyer, John Paul Stevens and David Souter have one each (Penn, Princeton, and Harvard respectively).

Meanwhile, says McGinnis, no Ivy League University has ever awarded such a degree to anyone currently sitting on the right of the Court.

Not Antonin Scalia, a former professor whose writing about textualism in statutory interpretation and originalism in constitutional interpretation have had a huge impact in academic debate. Not John Roberts, the Chief Justice, who some consider the best oral advocate of his generation.

Not Clarence Thomas, the Court’s only African-American Justice. Not Anthony Kennedy (maybe this will change now that he has found a constitutional right to gay marriage). Not Samuel Alito.

The case of Alito is interesting because, as McGinnis points out, if you forget ideology he provides an almost perfect head-to-head comparison with Sonia Sotomayor:

Samuel Alito graduated from the same college and law school as Sonia Sotomayor and has been on the Court longer, but both schools have honored her and not him with honorary degrees.

By now, you may be wondering who received the two Ivy League honorary degrees that have not gone to leftist Justices. The answer is Sandra Day O’Connor.

Enough said.

It’s clear, and not just from the treatment of Supreme Court Justices, that an honorary degree award is a statement of a university’s own values. This, doesn’t offend me.

Universities should invite thought leaders of all persuasions to discuss and debate the issues. But it’s natural that they honor those whose work advances the values they believe in.

What McGinnis’ analysis shows is not that Ivy League colleges are acting improperly when it comes to awarding honorary degrees. It simply confirms the overwhelmingly leftist bias of these institutions.

Conservative Justices should feel honored that they aren’t being honored by Ivy League schools.