More than 2,400 law professors have signed on to a letter saying that Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh displayed a lack of judicial restraint at a Senate hearing last week — behavior that would be disqualifying for any court nominee.
Kavanaugh was responding to accusations from a California professor, Christine Blasey Ford, that he sexually assaulted her at a house party when they were teenagers in the 1980s. At the hearing, he vehemently defended his innocence and derided what he called “a calculated and orchestrated political hit.”
Afterward, law professors across the country began discussing, “with great distress, the unprecedented and unfathomable demeanor of Judge Kavanaugh,” said Bernard Harcourt, a professor at Columbia Law School.
The letter, which was emailed to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) late Thursday afternoon, grew out of those conversations. “It was a spontaneous reaction to the hearing,” Harcourt said.
The groundswell was overwhelming, he said, with hundreds of lawyers from more than 190 law schools signing on within hours.
As people signed on, the New York Times offered to publish it as an opinion piece, Harcourt said.
Signatories included Martha Minow — the former dean of Harvard Law School, where Kavanaugh taught a popular course — other law school deans and former deans, and some scholars who previously supported Kavanaugh.
“As someone who knew and liked Brett Kavanaugh when we clerked together, I have tried very hard to stay out of this process and to give him the benefit of the doubt,” said Mark Lemley, a professor at Stanford Law School. But Kavanaugh’s behavior at the hearing last week “was not what we should expect of a Supreme Court Justice. Telling obvious lies about his background, yelling at senators, refusing to answer questions, and blaming his troubles on others is not appropriate behavior.”
Harcourt said they signed out of concern about a rush to judgment, in the belief that for the Senate to elevate Kavanaugh “without full information and deliberation to the Supreme Court would undermine the respect owed” to the institution.
The letter to the Senate cites two laws governing bias and recusal, noting, “Judges must step aside if they are at risk of being perceived as or of being unfair. …
“We have differing views about the other qualifications of Judge Kavanaugh,” they wrote. “But we are united, as professors of law and scholars of judicial institutions, in believing that Judge Kavanaugh did not display the impartiality and judicial temperament requisite to sit on the highest court of our land. "‘
Several hundred other law professors filled out the online form to sign the letter Thursday afternoon but did not receive confirmation emails in time to be included on the final list.
Another letter, signed by about 900 female law professors, asked the Senate to reject Kavanaugh’s appointment. As a law professor, “it is my responsibility to teach my students the highest standards of professionalism and decorum,” Karla McKanders, a professor of law at Vanderbilt University Law School, said in an email. “Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony undermines the legal profession and would undermine the authority of the Supreme Court.”