There Has Not Been a Non-Lawyer on a Democratic Presidential Ticket in Three Decades

Dems nominate two candidates from America's least favorite profession for ninth straight election

Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine
Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine / AP
August 1, 2016

Democrats nominated two lawyers for the ninth consecutive presidential election at last week's convention in Philadelphia, something Republicans have not done since 1972.

Both Hillary Clinton, who went to Yale Law School, and running mate Tim Kaine, who went to Harvard Law School, worked in private law practices before entering the political realm.

It has become a given for Democrats to nominate lawyers in recent decades. All of the party’s candidates going back to 1984—Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry, John Edwards, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, and Geraldine Ferraro—went to law school.

Many of them attended the same law school. Lieberman went to Yale along with both Clintons, while Kaine, Obama, and Dukakis went to Harvard.

The last time the Democrats put a non-lawyer on its presidential ticket was in 1980 when Jimmy Carter ran for re-election. Carter worked on his family's peanut farm after serving in the U.S. Navy. Vice President Mondale is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School and worked in private practice before and after his political career.

The closest the Democratic Party has come to escaping its lawyer pattern was with the Clinton-Gore ticket. Gore never finished law school, dropping out from Vanderbilt University Law School during his third year to run for Congress in 1976.

Although Clinton graduated from law school and was a licensed lawyer during both his presidential campaigns, he was disbarred during his second term for lying under oath during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Law degrees are not completely absent on the Republican side of the aisle, although they have been more rare.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Donald Trump's running mate, is a graduate of the Indiana University School of Law.

Pence is the first lawyer on the Republican ticket since 1996 when the party nominated Bob Dole, a graduate of Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Vice President Dan Quayle was, like Pence, a graduate of the Indiana University School of Law.

Republican Mitt Romney, at the top of the ticket in 2012, received a joint business-law degree through Harvard University but did not go on to practice law.

In lieu of lawyers, the Republicans have nominated Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan, NFL quarterback Jack Kemp, and sportscaster Sarah Palin.

The legal profession is the least appreciated in the United States. Only 18 percent of Americans said that lawyers contribute "a lot" to society, lower than any other profession, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll.

Thirty-four percent of Americans said that lawyers contribute "not very much" or "nothing at all" to society.

Published under: 2016 Election