Mukasey hearings double as Yale reunion

By A. James Memmott

October 22, 2007 at 8:24am

The recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Michael Mukasey to be U.S. attorney general might have passed for a meeting of the Yale Law School alumni association.

Mukasey, class of 1967, was introduced to the committee by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., also Yale Law class of ‘67.

The ranking minority member of the committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., graduated from the law school in 1956.

It was proof again of the power and connections of the law school that is consistently ranked No. 1, in the U.S. News and World Reports listing of law schools.

Though they have been outnumbered in high places (the Supreme Court, etc.) by graduates of the larger Harvard Law School, Yale-trained lawyers have consistently done their school proud.

The law school (about 200 new students a year) in New Haven, Conn., is extraordinarily selective ñ it accepts about seven percent of its applicants. It prides itself on a small student-teacher ratio and on the diversity of its student body.

The school has a reputation for a liberal faculty and a liberal student body. Conservative Robert Bork, who taught at Yale Law School and whose nomination to the Supreme Court was opposed by several people at Yale, has said he saw a bumper sticker that read: “Save America. Close Yale Law School.”

But despite Yale’s reputation, the political views of its graduates reflect a broad range of attitudes.

President Gerald Ford, Yale Law class of 1941, was in the moderate wing of the Republican Party.

President Bill Clinton, Yale Law class of 1973, placed himself in the middle of the Democratic Party. His wife, Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Yale Law class of 1972, is seen as moderate by some, liberal by others.

The couple met in law school at the end of her second year, his first. In her book, Living History, Sen. Clinton recalls her future husband staring at her while she was in the library. “If you’re going to keep looking at me, and I’m going to keep looking back,” she said, approaching him, “we might as well be introduced.”

Judicially, Yale Law graduates have been all over the philosophic map. On the conservative side are Justices Clarence Thomas (Yale Law ‘74) and Samuel Alito (Yale Law ‘75).

Their nominations were opposed by several members of the Law School faculty, including Bruce Ackerman, who graduated from the Law School in Mukasey and Libererman’s class.

Anita Hill, another Thomas opponent, graduated from Yale Law in 1980.

Judicial liberals from the law school have included A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., class of 1952, a civil rights activist who served as a judge on U. S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard Law professor and criminal defense lawyer who represented, among other clients, O.J. Simpson and Claus Von Bulow, graduated from Yale Law in 1962.

Some Yale Law graduates went on to notable careers in other fields.

Evangelist Pat Robertson graduated from the law school in 1955. Political analyst Jeff Greenfield was also in the Liberman-Mukasey class of 1967. Film critic Renata Adler was in the class of 1979.

Some non-graduates have done well, as well.

David Milch, one of the creators of television’s NYPD Blue, was briefly a student at Yale Law School in the late 1960s before he was expelled after shooting out a street light with a shotgun.

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