Yale Law School Riled Up Over Report Females Groomed To Clerk For Kavanaugh

By Ed Stannard
New Haven Register, Conn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination split the law school community as soon as he was nominated July 9, when the school issued a press release in which faculty praised the judge.


A new controversy related to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh rose up at Yale Law School Friday, with signs in the school’s courtyard calling the school a “model of complicity” in the accusations that Kavanaugh may have assaulted a woman when they were in high school.

A story in The Guardian newspaper of London on Thursday claimed that law professors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, who are married, would advise female students applying for clerkships with Kavanaugh to have a “certain look” during their interviews.

It went on to say that Chua would tell students it was “‘not an accident’ that Kavanaugh’s female law clerks all ‘looked like models.'”

Kavanaugh, 53, a federal appeals judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, graduated from Yale in 1987 and received his Yale law degree in 1990. He has been accused of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, now a professor at Palo Alto University, when they were in high school.

A sign posted next to Kavanaugh’s portrait in the law school says, “We believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford #MeToo.”

Another quotes professor Ahkil Reed Amar as saying that nominating Kavanaugh “is the one most sane, most sober, most classy thing that the administration has done.”

Chua, who gained national notoriety in 2011 with her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” advocating a super-strict parenting style, fell ill shortly after the fall semester began and reportedly was hospitalized. She has been known as a mentor for potential Kavanaugh law clerks and one of her two daughters is set to clerk for him if he is not confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.

Chua issued a statement disputing that Kavanaugh seeks attractive women as law clerks. “For the more than ten years I’ve known him, Judge Kavanaugh’s first and only litmus test in hiring has been excellence,” she wrote. “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.”

The Guardian also claimed that Rubenfeld is “the subject of an internal investigation at Yale … focused on Rubenfeld’s conduct, particularly with female law students.”

The newspaper quotes a statement from Rubenfeld saying he was told he was the subject of an “informal review” but that he was not told specifics. “I was further advised that the allegations were not of the kind that would jeopardize my position as a long-tenured member of the faculty.” That quote is also posted in the Yale Law School courtyard.

While law school spokeswoman Janet Conroy said she could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, Dean Heather Gerken issued a statement addressing the reports.

“The allegations being reported are of enormous concern to me and to the School,” Gerken wrote. “While we cannot comment on individual complaints or investigations, the Law School and the University thoroughly investigate all complaints regarding violations of University rules and take no options off the table. Neither the Law School nor the University prejudges the outcomes of investigations. Any statements to the contrary are inaccurate.”

Gerken added, “Faculty misconduct has no place at Yale Law School. You have my word that we will take appropriate action on any complaints.”

“I think people are unbelievably upset” about the alleged investigation, said a second-year law student who would not give her name. “I think they’re serious about investigating, but they haven’t done anything to show students that they’re serious about investigating.”

But the decades-old sexual assault allegation and the Guardian’s story have mobilized students, who reportedly plan a sit-in on Monday unless classes are canceled so they can go to Washington to protest at Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. Dana Bolger, a third-year law student, said in a Facebook message that “a number of professors have cancelled class, in response to students’ requests.”

“Everybody’s talking about it in the hallways and people are extremely passionate and are mobilizing and having conversations about how to proceed,” said a first-year student. “When there’s bias in who gets these clerkships, that means bias in who’s going to get on the Supreme Court 20 years from now,” the student said. “The things that are talked about were open secrets and are things that students hear even before they start” at the law school.

Lorianne Updike Toler, a fellow at the law school, said she thought the criticism of Chua and Rubenfeld’s coaching of women who wanted to be clerks was “silly.” “There’s no allegations here. You’re talking about being dressed femininely or assertively. It’s unclear what they’re charging. … Kavanaugh hires and promotes and forwards the careers of women. He takes on diverse women.”

On Friday, 49 Yale Law School faculty issued an open letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying they are “concerned about a rush to judgment that threatens both the integrity of the process and the public’s confidence in the Court.”

“Allegations of sexual assault require a neutral factfinder and an investigation that can ascertain facts fairly,” the letter states. “Those at the FBI or others tasked with such an investigation must have adequate time to investigate facts. … In subsequent hearings, all of those who testify, and particularly women testifying about sexual assault, must be treated with respect.”

The letter concluded, “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.”

Kavanaugh, who would replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, is expected to create a strong conservative majority on the court, with opponents fearing that he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.

His nomination split the law school community as soon as he was nominated July 9, when the school issued a press release in which Gerken and faculty praised the judge. “I can personally attest that, in addition to his government and judicial service, Judge Kavanaugh has been a longtime friend to many of us in the Yale Law School community,” Gerken wrote. “Ever since I joined the faculty, I have admired him for serving as a teacher and mentor to our students and for hiring a diverse set of clerks, in all respects, during his time on the court.”

That prompted a July 10 letter from students, alumni and faculty who said they were “ashamed of our alma mater.”

“The press release’s focus on the nominee’s professionalism, pedigree, and service to Yale Law School obscures the true stakes of his nomination and raises a disturbing question: Is there nothing more important to Yale Law School than its proximity to power and prestige? Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination presents an emergency — for democratic life, for our safety and freedom, for the future of our country.”

Two days later, a pro-Kavanaugh letter stated: “Judge Kavanaugh is eminently qualified to serve as a Supreme Court justice” and called him “one of our nation’s most distinguished jurists. … He has demonstrated a principled approach to interpreting the law. He has reached legal conclusions free of political partisanship. Judge Kavanaugh has devoted his professional life to upholding the rule of law and our Constitution.”

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