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MAGA CUM LAUDE

Was Brett Kavanaugh ranked number one at Yale?

A poster in support of Christine Blasey Fordon a sign on the front lawn of Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut.
Reuters/Gabriella Borter
Support for Christine Blasey Ford in New Haven.
  • Ephrat Livni
By Ephrat Livni

Senior reporter, law & politics, DC.

This article is more than 2 years old.

Donald Trump has called his US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “an absolute gem” and repeatedly remarked that the federal judge was the highest-ranked member of his class at Yale, both as an undergraduate and as a law student.

“I think he was number one in his class at Yale. He was number one in his law school at Yale,” Trump said again at a White House press conference yesterday (Oct. 1).

Not quite. 

As NBC News has noted—Yale University and Yale Law School don’t grade students conventionally, with letters or numbers. And they don’t have a class rank. ”Our current grading system does not allow the computation of grade point averages. Individual class rank is not computed,” according to the Yale Law School website. Instead, students can complete a course with one of four designations—credit, low pass, pass, or honors (pdf).

Similarly, as an undergraduate student at Yale, Kavanaugh did not garner the highest honors possible and was not the top student. He graduated “cum laude.” The designation means simply that he graduated “with distinction,” below  those who earned the honors of “magna cum laude” (“with great distinction”) and “summa cum laude” (“with the highest distinction”).

Now, with sexual misconduct allegations leveled against him, and after an emotional display before the Senate judiciary committee last week, what distinguishes Kavanaugh is starting to seem even less awesome.

The nominee told Harvard Law School yesterday that he can’t commit to teaching his usual course on the Supreme Court in 2019, the Harvard Crimson reports. While Kavanaugh initiated the cancellation, based on the administration’s email explanation to students, the judge’s move appears to be an effort to get ahead of protests.

The Crimson writes that sexual-misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh have “roiled the campus where he spent ten years instructing Harvard Law students on issues such as the separation of powers and the Court on which he hopes to serve.” Law students, alumni, and Harvard undergraduates have demanded that the school initiate its own investigation into the allegations and consider barring him from teaching.

More than 700 alumni have signed a letter to the law school dean, urging him to rescind Kavanaugh’s position as a lecturer. Kavanaugh was well aware of the controversy when he notified Harvard he wouldn’t be returning. Last week, before the judiciary committee, he said the accusations have destroyed the reputation he worked long and hard to build, jeopardizing his chances of returning to Harvard.

Apparently that testimony did little to convince former students he should return to their alma mater. The alumni letter remarked, “In addition to the substance of these allegations, Judge Kavanaugh’s comportment and testimony during the appointment process have cast further doubt on his fitness to serve on the Supreme Court.”

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