Justice Kavanaugh rips U.S. News rankings as 'highly problematic' at law school talk

U.S. Supreme Court justices pose for their group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh poses during a group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
  • U.S. Supreme Court justice said he doesn't consider law school ranking when hiring clerks
  • U.S. News has said it is modifying the rankings in response to mounting criticism

Jan 27 (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has joined the growing chorus of U.S. News & World Report law school rankings critics, saying during a talk this week at the University of Notre Dame Law School that the annual list fails to accurately gauge which schools are providing the best legal education.

“I think they’re based on things, from what I understand, that are very amorphous, very subjective, very word of mouth factors that don’t correlate well with the education that you’re actually receiving, and I find them highly problematic,” Kavanaugh said during a Monday panel with law dean Marcus Cole, a video of which the school released on Thursday.

A U.S. News spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday on Kavanaugh’s criticism. But the publication has defended the rankings in the face of the backlash as a helpful tool for would-be law students.

Kavanaugh’s comments come as the rankings are under intense pressure. At least 36 law schools, many of them highly ranked by the publication, have said they won’t supply U.S. News with any internal data for the rankings after years of complaints that the annual lists perpetuate a one-size-fits all approach to legal education and incentivize schools to make decisions that aren’t in students’ best interests.

The law schools at Yale and Harvard in November kicked off the boycott, which has steadily gained momentum. The exodus has spread to other U.S. News rankings, with a handful of medical and business schools also saying they won’t participate.

U.S. News has said it will continue to rank law schools despite the boycott and that is modifying its methodology to rely only on publicly available data supplied annually by the American Bar Association, which accredits law schools. It will no longer include expenditures-per-student, a metric that has been criticized as rewarding schools for driving up tuition, among other changes.

But the revamped rankings will still assign each school a “reputation score” derived from surveys of legal academics, judges and practicing lawyers. Kavanaugh called the reputation scores “kind of a joke,” adding that most people don’t have enough knowledge about different law schools to effectively rank them. He added that he does not consider law school rank when hiring clerks.

Kavanaugh, who is among the court’s six conservative justices, did not directly mention the May leak of the draft of court’s ruling overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had legalized abortion nationwide during his more than hour-long Notre Dame talk. But he said the previous term was a “difficult year” for the high court. Kavanaugh told the audience that he’s “optimistic” about the Supreme Court.


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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com