Yale Law School is roiled by the controversy surrounding US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, with students cancelling classes today (Sept. 24).
Some are holding a sit-in at the school to show support for Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were in high school.
Many of the students are wearing black, and roughly 200 sat in a main hallway at the school. Others traveled to Washington DC to protest the Kavanaugh nomination. A Yale Law School administrative assistant confirmed to Quartz that students are not attending classes. And students posted photos on Twitter from the sit-in, which included an appearance by Yale alum senator Richard Blumenthal.
Meanwhile, the Kavanaugh confirmation is facing additional challenges. On Sept. 23, The New Yorker published the account of Deborah Ramirez, a former Yale undergraduate student who accuses Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her while they were drunk at a party. A third accuser is alleged to be represented by Michael Avenati, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels.
Last week, Huffington Post and the Guardian published stories from former students who said that Yale Law School (YLS) professor Amy Chua coached prospective Kavanaugh clerks to don short skirts, as the judge prefers women who are feminine and resemble models. Chua denied the claims. Meanwhile, another student said that Chua’s husband, Jed Rubenfeld, also a Yale law school professor, warned her not to clerk for Kavanaugh—it turns out that Rubenfeld himself has been accused of harassment of and inappropriate conduct toward female students.
Angry law school students on Sept. 21 posted handwritten protest signs on campus. One says “YLS is a Model of Complicity.” Another asks, “Is there nothing more important to YLS than its proximity to power and prestige?” As the signs accusing the school hung on its walls, law school professors sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, asking that accusations against Kavanaugh be fully investigated and that the government not rush to confirmation. The open letter to senators from Yale law faculty states:
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.
In view of the latest accusations, Kavanaugh’s past speeches about his college and law school days are starting to speak for themselves. Or, to put it in legalese, res ipsa loquitor. In a 2014 speech at the Yale Federalist Society, for example, Kavanaugh boasted about a night of drinking that ended with inebriated students falling out of the bus in front of the school at dawn.
Some students at Harvard University’s law school, where Kavanaugh has taught since 2009, are also unhappy about the nominee’s association with their school. In an op-ed in the Harvard Law Record on Sept. 20, they wrote that he should not be allowed to teach there in 2019—as he is scheduled to—without an extensive investigative process into sexual misconduct allegations.
“The Republicans in the Senate may not care about investigating these claims and appear poised to confirm Kavanaugh without regard to the allegations against him,” the students, who are part of a group called the Pipeline Parity Project, which attempts to end discrimination in the legal profession, write. “As students, however, we will not accept that as the end of this matter. Unless a full and fair investigation is conducted, Harvard Law School cannot allow Kavanaugh to continue teaching its students and the Senate cannot confirm him to the Supreme Court.” The law school students told the Huffington Post that the administration has not yet responded.
Ivy-league-school administrators may not be able to ignore angry students for long, especially if the White House continues to decline any FBI investigation of the accusations and the Senate Judiciary Committee insists on moving forward before more is known. Increasingly, any support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation now seems like a betrayal to students.
Still, schools are trying to play it safe—after all, their proximity to power and prestige has been extremely important to them thus far. In a statement sent in response to Quartz’s request for comment, Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken said, “The allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are rightly causing deep concern at Yale Law School and across the country. Many of our faculty and students have taken actions to raise these concerns about the confirmation process….As dean, I cannot take a position on the nomination, but I am so proud of the work our community is doing to engage with these issues, and I stand with them in supporting the importance of fair process, the rule of law, and the integrity of the legal system.”
This post has been updated with the latest statement from Dean Gerken and to reflect additional information about the student protests.