Friday, November 14, 2014


Kelly Dutcher teaches Civics at the Harbor Springs High School. Her husband, Jordan, the Harbor Barber, cuts my hair. Nice folks. Kelly invited me to speak to her classes on Thursday.

I told the students about George Mason, one of only three delegates to the Philadelphia Convention who refused to sign the Constitution. Colonel Mason thought that the new federal government would become either a monarchy or an oligarchy.

I asked the students if they knew what an oligarchy is. Several volunteers spoke up. “It’s when only a few people run the government,” said one.

“Do we have an oligarchy in America?” I asked. Lots of head shaking. Lots of “No” from the class. The United States is a democracy, or maybe a republic, but not an oligarchy.

So I asked them, “If the President and all the members of Congress and the Supreme Court were graduates of Harbor Springs High School, would that be an oligarchy?

They laughed. Then they agreed. It would certainly be an oligarchy.

“O.K. Suppose you guys decided to share the power and you let some graduates of Petoskey High and Charlevoix High share the power, would it still be an oligarchy?”

They smiled and nodded. Yes, it would still be an oligarchy.

“Did Mrs. Dutcher tell you there are three branches of government?”

A chorus of answers came from the class: Executive, Legislative, Judicial.

“All right, suppose only two of the three branches were controlled by your high school oligarchy, would the federal government still be an oligarchy as George Mason said?”

There was some murmuring, some looking around, some shrugging of shoulders. Then the heads nodded. Yes, the government would still be an oligarchy.

That’s when I sprung it on them. “Did you know that two of the three branches of our national government consist entirely of graduates of three universities, Harvard, Yale and Columbia?”

No way. They do?

Yes, They do. Now would you say that the United States might just be an oligarchy, like George mason predicted?

Somber silence. They didn’t know.

Then I told them how, when I was Dean at Cooley Law School, I wrote to Chief Justice Burger and complained that all the law clerks in the Supreme Court were from four or five law schools. Would the Justices consider interviewing graduates of the other 170 law schools in America?

Burger wrote in reply that he always asked his former clerks to recommend candidates, and he was satisfied with the results. Pretty tight club, it seemed to me. So I put together a national law school dean’s list. Asked all the deans around the country to send me the name of one top student in their senior class, and we published an attractive book with pictures, biogs, and recommendations.

I sent copies to Burger and all the other Justices. Nothing happened. Nada. Zilch. Nobody got hired. Nobody got interviewed.

That’s how an oligarchy works.

One girl stopped as she was leaving after class to ask about clerkships in the Supreme Court. Don’t they even take people from the University of Michigan? She asked.

You mean ‘the Harvard of the Midwest’?

Not hardly.


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