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Monday, March 20, 2017

Vacancy on Supreme Court 2017 - Applicant’s Law Schools, Grades, and Class Ranks

Commentary by Joel Schumm, professor at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law

It has become a tradition here on the ILB to report the law school grades and class rank of applicants. First on the list of statutory “considerations” for each member of the judicial nominating commission to weigh in evaluating Supreme Court applicants is “Legal education, including law schools attended and education after law school, and any academic honors and awards achieved.” Ind. Code § 33-27-3-2(a)(1).

Question 3 on the application form directed candidates: “List all law schools, graduate schools, and post-J.D. programs attended. Include the school name; dates enrolled; degree or certificate earned; class rank; and any academic honors, awards, or scholarships you received and when.” The second part of the question instructed: “Include with your original application a certified transcript from each school named in Subsection 3A, and attach copies of each transcript to each application copy.” Although the applications are posted online, the transcripts may only be reviewed in person.

Law school grades are of some but limited use. Grading practices vary from law school to law school and have generally become more lenient over time. Class rank is arguably more useful because it provides a comparison of how the applicant compares to others within their graduating class. A 3.3 at some law school in the past few decades could mean an applicant was in the top 20% of their class or may mean they are in the bottom half. Although both Indiana University law schools calculate class rank, many applicants did not include it, instead including comments like “class rank not indicated on transcript” or “not provided” — or simply ignoring the topic.

The following chart, which was compiled by reviewing both the applications and the transcripts, is sorted by GPA and offered as in the past with the caveat that grading practices at some law schools have changed over the years.

The chart excludes applicants who attended law school that did not award conventional grades or calculate GPAs on a 4.0 scale. These include Mr. Rusthoven (magna cum laude)** from Harvard Law School and Judge Graham who attended Howard University School of Law.

Do Grades Matter?

The GPAs from the four most recent selection processes are available at these links: 2010 and 2012-1 and 2012-2 and 2016. The four selected justices had GPAs ranging from 3.00 to 3.29 with class ranks in the top 15%, top 24%, top 34%, and top 59%.

An All IU Supreme Court?

Eight applicants attended IU-McKinney and five attended IU-Maurer, which gives a 65% chance that the next justice will be an Indiana University alum. Joining two McKinney graduates (Justices David and Massa) and two Maurer graduates (Chief Justice Rush and Justice Slaughter), the Indiana Supreme Court could soon be one of the few in the nation filled with graduates of the state’s law schools. (I believe New Mexico, South Carolina, and Wyoming are the others.)

Two of the other applicants attended Louisville, and the remaining five attended (in alphabetical order): Harvard, Howard, Loyola-Chicago, Ohio Northern, and Valparaiso.

** Although used differently at different institutions, summa (highest), then magna, then cum laude are honors reserved for the top percentage of graduating classes or those with a specific GPA. Here's a general description.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 20, 2017 10:18 AM
Posted to Vacancy on Supreme Court - 2017