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  • John Lott

New piece at Politico: The dumbing down of America's judges

My piece at Politico starts this way:

Think that attending a top university and graduating at the top of the class is the key to your success? Not if you’re headed for a federal judgeship. In fact, today the most accomplished candidates for the bench are the most likely to be rejected. And this phenomenon has only gotten worse with the quality of America’s judges in marked decline.

The evidence of so-called dumbing down is striking: Tracking federal judge appointments over the past four decades, I found that graduates of one of U.S. News and World Report’s top 10 law schools who also served on their school’s law review had a 30 percent lower confirmation rate than their peers who neither went to top law schools nor did particularly well. Looking at all the nominations from the Jimmy Carter through George W. Bush administrations, I also found that confirmation took about 65 percent longer for the first group — and 158 percent longer for students at top law schools who distinguished themselves further by getting clerkships on circuit courts and then the Supreme Court. On top of that, a federal judge whose opinions were cited 20 percent more often than their peers faced roughly a 60 percent longer confirmation process.

So why are America’s best and brightest lawyers having such a hard time getting to the bench? A helpful analogy is jury selection. A few years ago, Greg Mankiw, chairman of Harvard University’s economics department, was called for jury duty...


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