Turmoil rocks Yale Law amid hearings
NEW HAVEN — In a book on the history of the Yale Law School, one scholar detailed the turmoil at that institution starting in the late 1960s that ultimately set a new direction there for several decades to
Now, there is turmoil again at the prestigous school around the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme
Court, which is playing out very publicly and internationally.
More than 100 students and alumni in early July accused the law school administration of being more concerned about its “proximity to power and prestige” than about what the judge’s past Appellate Court rulings will mean to the direction of the high court in the future.
Dean Heather Gerken, in a statement after the nomination, praised Kavanaugh’s contribution to the law school as a teacher and mentor, which the students took as an endorsement. She clarified later that that was not the case as the administration must remain neutral, although individual faculty were free to respond as they saw fit.
Laura Kalman, a history professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has written two books on the history of the Yale Law School, and when asked in a phone interview what the latest turmoil at the school will mean for the school’s direction, she said historians are poor prognosticators of future events.
Still, Kalman said it appears to be as pivotal a moment for the school as when Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, both Yale Law School graduates, clashed in 1991 before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it was vetting Thomas’ nomination to the high court after she had accused him of sexual harassment.
The professor said it would be hard to imagine that the campus would take a bigger hit for the current controversies than it did in those hearings when then Dean Guido Calabresi testified to the character of both Hill and Thomas.
The reaction on the campus to the Kavanaugh nomination exploded further on Sept. 16 after Christine Blasey Ford, in a Washington Post story, detailed accusations that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers, a twist that joined the students initial concerns about the judge with the #MeToo movement’s demand for justice for victims of sexual misconduct.
Some 260 law school students held a sit-in last week to protest the nomination, while 120 went to Washington, D.C. to make themselves heard on the judge’s jurisprudence and the lack of an independent FBI investigation into the charges, as well as those subsequently made by Deborah Ramirez, a former Yale College classmate of Kavanaugh.
Ramirez has accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself at a drunken party when they were freshmen in 1983-84 and caused her to touch his penis, against her will, when he trust it in her face.
Since then, Julie Swetnick alleged Kavanaugh was present at a high school party around 1982 where she was the victim of a “gang rape.” She did not identify Kavanaugh as one of her attackers. She said further that over a series of parties, she saw Kavanaugh “consistently engage in excessive drinking and inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with women during the early 1980s,” according to CBS Baltimore.
Kavanaugh has vigorously denied all the charges made against him by the three women.
A total of 50 Yale Law School faculty on Sept. 21 cautioned the Senate Judiciary Committee not to rush to judgment on Kavanaugh without calling in the FBI to investigate the facts. Gerken made a similar request a week later after the American Bar Association did the same thing.
In the quickly evolving story, both Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh testified in an emotional hearing Thursday that each was certain of their positions. The Senate Judiciary Committee then voted 11 to 10 to send the confirmation to the Senate floor.
But Sen. Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said he could not vote for the judge until there was an FBI investigation, which President Trump has now ordered, stipulating it not last more than a week.
“I join the American Bar Association in calling for an additional investigation into allegations made against Judge Kavanaugh,” Gerken said in a statement Friday. “Proceeding with the confirmation process without further investigation is not in the best interest of the Court or our profession.”
During the current law school protests on the treatment of sex harassment victims, numerous references were made to Anita Hill and Yale’s obligation to support a more fair process for the women complaining about Kavanaugh, than was available to Hill.
Alex Taubus, who graduated from Yale Law School in 2015, said he feels the school has been tarnished given that it holds itself out as a place where you do the right thing and not just prepare for a career.
Kalman said that as she sees in the history of the law school that its students have always been the best part of the institution.
There were however plenty of conflicts in a clash of cultures “between students, between professors, and between students and professors” in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Kalman wrote in the Yale Law Review in the summer of 2006.