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Special to Kalamalama by Mel Masuda J.D., M.P.A., associate professor of law and public administration

 

As soon as his nomination was announced (it was Halloween, and some liberals no doubt thought it was a trick on “trick-or-treat day”), the national media began investigating Alito’s background. USA Today uncovered his Princeton yearbook and published excerpts from it that brought back a flood of memories.

Princeton does not—and will never have—a law school. Princeton’s board of trustees decided long ago that its resources would be wasted if Princeton tried to create another law school to join the 250 accredited law schools already in existence. So, those of us at Princeton who wanted to go on to law school and who were fortunate enough to score well on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) had a choice between Yale and Harvard law schools. Even today, almost a generation later, Princeton seniors choose Yale Law School by a margin of 4 to 1.

The principal reason is that Yale Law has no required attendance rule for classes. You can cut classes all semester and just show up for the midterm exam and the final. Also, Yale Law is small and personal. It is for the latter reason—the personal attention which you can get if you want it—that Yale Law has ranked No. 1 over all the years that U.S. News & World Report has been ranking all 250 U.S. schools of law.

Yale Law is four times smaller than Harvard Law, with only 140 students in the entering class. Everyone gets to know everyone else, which can lead to somewhat embarrassing moments. For example, when Yale Law graduate Clarence Thomas went through his confirmation hearings before the Senate in 1991, Thomas had to admit on the record what FBI investigators had uncovered from interviewing his Yale Law classmates during a background check. He had to admit—embarrassingly—that, because Yale Law has no required attendance rule, he spent most of his time at Yale Law not going to class but instead watching porn movies at a nearby theater. Of course, Thomas asserted that he had changed his ways, and the Senate must have believed him: he was confirmed 53 to 47.

Another memory: At Princeton, as a senior, for a yearbook called the Nassau Herald, students get to write, in the third person, a short synopsis of their background and accomplishments at Princeton.

USA Today tracked down what Judge Alito had written in his synopsis. It’s hard to tell whether he was being serious or was kidding when he wrote the now-prophetic words: “Sam intends to go to law school and eventually to warm a seat on the Supreme Court.”

 

 

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