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'This is an extraordinary moment’: Yale Law faculty call on Senate committee to treat allegations seriously in Kavanaugh nomination

Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh is a graduate of Yale Law School, where faculty are urging senators not to rush to judgment on the nomination. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
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A majority of Yale Law School faculty members are urging the Senate Judiciary Committee not to rush to judgment in considering Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, a graduate of the school, and to treat seriously allegations of a past sexual assault.

On Friday afternoon, as some Yale Law students worked on plans for protests on Monday, 47 faculty members sent a letter to the committee, writing, “Some questions are so fundamental to judicial integrity that the Senate cannot rush past them without undermining the public’s confidence in the Court. This is particularly so for an appointment that will yield a deciding vote on women’s rights and myriad other questions of immense consequence in American lives.”

Nearly every permanent member of the faculty joined the effort, which happened essentially overnight, said Muneer Ahmad, clinical professor of law and deputy dean for experiential education at Yale Law School. It is something that had never happened in his more than 15 years on the faculty. “In my view it’s an extraordinary statement that this is an extraordinary moment in our country’s history," with great concern about public confidence in the Supreme Court, he said.

Ahmad said professors sought to express their belief that the confirmation process should proceed in a fair and deliberate way in light of the charges made by Christine Blasey Ford.

California professor Christine Blasey Ford speaks out about sexual assault allegation

Ford, a professor in California, has accused Kavanaugh of pinning her to a bed while he was a teenager, drunk at a high school party Ford attended decades ago. Ford said Kavanaugh groped her and covered her mouth when she screamed.

Kavanaugh graduated from Yale Law School in 1990.

When there is so much at stake, Ahmad said, “a lifetime appointment in a position of public trust, at a time when the issues that are likely to come before the Supreme Court are of such public significance, we need a process that is commensurate with those stakes.”

Any Supreme Court nomination is high pressure, he said, but given the allegations that have been made, the stakes are especially high with Kavanaugh.

The letter asked for a neutral fact-finder and enough time for the FBI or another agency to investigate Ford’s allegations.

“The fact that so many people on our faculty so quickly signed onto our statement is a reflection of the gravity of the moment," Ahmad said.

The dean of the law school, Heather Gerken, responded to the faculty letter with a written statement saying that as dean, she cannot take a position on a nominee. “It’s a thoughtful statement and I support the efforts of individual faculty members to engage with these important issues," the dean wrote. “Yale Law School is a nonpartisan institution. While individual faculty members may make comments regarding a particular candidate, the Law School neither endorses nor opposes candidates for office.”

A coalition of students is working on plans for protests on campus and in Washington, according to several students who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Some planned a sit-in in the law school’s main hallway Monday morning, and said if professors continued to hold classes, students would walk out.

Janet Conroy, a spokeswoman for the law school, said there are ongoing discussions at the school about how individuals and groups can work together to make their voices heard during the confirmation process.

On Thursday, Gerken responded to reports in the Guardian and elsewhere that Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School, had advised female students interviewing for clerkships with Kavanaugh, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to dress with a “model-like” femininity. According to the Guardian, Chua, author of the best-selling “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," last year privately told a group of law students that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s female law clerks “looked like models.”

The paper reported that Jed Rubenfeld, another Yale professor and Chua’s husband, told a student that Kavanaugh liked to hire women “with a certain look.” The Guardian also reported that Rubenfeld is the subject of an internal investigation at Yale focused on his conduct with female law students.

Gerken wrote in a letter to the campus that the allegations that had been reported were “of enormous concern to me and to the school.” She wrote that she could not comment on individual complaints and investigations but that the school thoroughly investigates complaints about violations of university rules “and take(s) no options off the table.”

Gerken wrote that she takes seriously the responsibility of ensuring an environment in which all students are treated with respect, free from harassment.

Chua and Rubenfeld did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post.

Rubenfeld said in a statement to the Guardian he was not informed of the specifics of the investigation and was advised that the allegations prompting the investigation are “not of the kind that would jeopardize my position as a long-tenured member of the faculty.”

“For some years, I have contended with personal attacks and false allegations in reaction to my writing on difficult and controversial but important topics in the law,” he wrote. “I have reason to suspect I am now facing more of the same." He stands ready to engage with the process in the hope it can be quickly concluded, he wrote.

Chua told the Guardian in an emailed statement: “For the more than 10 years I’ve known him, Judge Kavanaugh’s first and only litmus test in hiring has been excellence. He hires only the most qualified clerks, and they have been diverse as well as exceptionally talented and capable.

“There is good reason so many of them have gone on to supreme court clerkships; he only hires those who are extraordinarily qualified. As I wrote in the Wall Street Journal, he has also been an exceptional mentor to his female clerks and a champion of their careers. Among my proudest moments as a parent was the day I learned our daughter would join those ranks.”

Here is the faculty letter in full:

"As the Senate Judiciary Committee debates Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, we write as faculty members of Yale Law School, from which Judge Kavanaugh graduated, to urge that the Senate conduct a fair and deliberate confirmation process. With so much at stake for the Supreme Court and the nation, we are concerned about a rush to judgment that threatens both the integrity of the process and the public’s confidence in the Court.

"Where, as here, a sexual assault has been alleged against an individual nominated for a lifetime appointment in a position of public trust, a partisan hearing alone cannot be the forum to determine the truth of the matter. Allegations of sexual assault require a neutral factfinder and an investigation that can ascertain facts fairly. Those at the FBI or others tasked with such an investigation must have adequate time to investigate facts. Fair process requires evidence from all parties with direct knowledge and consultation of experts when evaluating such evidence. In subsequent hearings, all of those who testify, and particularly women testifying about sexual assault, must be treated with respect.

“The confirmation process must always be conducted, and appointments made, in a manner that gives Americans reason to trust the Supreme Court. Some questions are so fundamental to judicial integrity that the Senate cannot rush past them without undermining the public’s confidence in the Court. This is particularly so for an appointment that will yield a deciding vote on women’s rights and myriad other questions of immense consequence in American lives.”