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High court less diverse in some aspects

Con law scholar A.E. “Dick” Howard notes the U.S. Supreme Court seems to have gained ethnic and gender diversity while losing much of its geographic and career diversity in the past five decades.

Speaking to a Law Day gathering in Roanoke Friday, the University of Virginia professor observed today’s Supreme Court is made up of former appellate judges who never held political office of any kind before ascending to the bench, a change from the days of the Warren Court. “When I was clerking for Justice Black, there were people on the court who were major national figures before they ever came to the Supreme Court,” Howard said. Now, he said, “There are just certain realms of major political and public experience which are not represented on the present Supreme Court.”

Also diminished is geographic diversity. Howard pointed out that, if Elena Kagan is seated, four of the five burroughs of New York City will be represented on the Supreme Court. “I think the Big Apple is a great place, but does that represent all of America?” Howard asked.

The religious makeup of the court also has changed, Howard noted. In 1969, he said, seven of the nine members were Protestant. Now, if Kagan is confirmed, there will be three Jews and six Catholics on the court, with no Protestants. “It’s a striking fact of how much American politics has changed in the last 40 years,” Howard said.

By Peter Vieth

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