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Law & Courts

The Supreme Court Justices Are All Ivy Law Grads, But What About High School?

By Corey Mitchell — July 12, 2018 4 min read
Boland Hall at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Md., where Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh attended high school.

There are more than 31,000 public and private high schools in the United States.

What are the chances that one of those schools would have two alumni on the U.S. Supreme Court?

Pretty high, actually.

With President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh, 53, to be the next U.S. Supreme Court justice, Georgetown Preparatory School, an exclusive all-boys Jesuit high school in suburban Washington, could have two grads on the nation’s highest court.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who was two years behind Kavanaugh at the school, was Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee and took the bench last year.

Kavanaugh, now a federal appeals-court judge, was an athlete at Georgetown Prep who also worked on the school newspaper. Gorsuch immersed himself in government, serving as student-body president his senior year.

Their alma matter, which has educated the children of Washington’s upper crust for centuries, was founded in 1789, the same year the Supreme Court was formed. Tuition ranges from $37,215 for students who commute to the North Bethesda, Md., school to $60,280 for students who live on campus.

Before she attended law school and became a Maryland state judge, Kavanaugh’s mother taught in the District of Columbia public schools. Gorsuch’s mother, a lawyer and politician, led the federal Environmental Protection Agency for three years during the Reagan administration.

Justices’ School Backgrounds

While all the current Supreme Court justices graduated from Ivy League law schools, they did not all attend exclusive private high schools.

Five of the nine sitting justices—Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito Jr., and Elena Kagan—attended public high schools, while Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, and Sonia Sotomayor, along with Gorsuch, attended private schools.

Kavanaugh’s appointment could reverse the current 5-4 public-private school split on the Supreme Court. He would replace the outgoing Kennedy, who graduated from public high school in California.

Here’s a look at where the Supreme Court justices attended high school and some background on their experiences:

• Roberts, the chief justice, graduated from La Lumiere School, a Roman Catholic boarding school in LaPorte, Ind., where he captained the football team, competed as a wrestler, and co-edited the school newspaper.

• Kennedy graduated from Sacramento’s C.K. McClatchy High, the alma matter of two other high-profile lawyers: Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the current chief justice of the California supreme court, and current California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

• Thomas was the first black student to enroll at St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, a formerly all-white Catholic boarding school in Savannah, Ga. During his time at the school, Thomas co-edited the school newspaper. Before enrolling at St. John Vianney, he was a student at St. Pius X High School, an all-black Catholic school in Savannah.

• Ginsburg is among a host of notable alumni of Brooklyn’s James Madison High. Though Ginsburg is a Supreme Court justice, she may not even be the most famous judge to earn a diploma from James Madison: Television personality Judith “Judge Judy” Sheindlin is also a graduate. The school is also the alma mater of four Nobel Prize winners and two sitting U.S. senators, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. (Both Sanders and Schumer oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination.)

• Breyer graduated from San Francisco’s Lowell High School, where he was a member of the forensics team. Lowell High became a public magnet school about a decade after Breyer graduated. Civil rights groups and community activists filed two high-profile lawsuits, San Francisco NAACP v. San Francisco Unified in the 1980s and Ho v. San Francisco Unified in the 1990s, challenging the schools’ admission policies. Breyer has a personal connection to school law: His father, Irving Breyer, served as legal counsel for the San Francisco board of education for 40 years, retiring well before the cases were filed.

See Also: For One Supreme Court Justice, a Personal Connection to School Law

• Alito graduated from Steinhert High School in Hamilton Township, N.J., where he was class valedictorian, class president, and a member of the debate team. Both of Alito’s parents were teachers, and his mother went on to work as a principal in the Hamilton Township schools. After leaving the classroom, his father served for decades as the director of the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, overseeing legislative redistricting.

• Sotomayor was class valedictorian at Cardinal Spellman High, a Roman Catholic school in the Bronx where she was also a member of the school’s debate team and participated in student government.

• Kagan graduated from Hunter College High, a Manhattan-based school for gifted students that is run by New York City’s public university system. The highly selective school also educated the first women to serve on supreme courts in three states, Connecticut, New York, and Wisconsin. Like several other justices, Kagan has familial ties to education: Her mother and two brothers were teachers.

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