Yale Law School evolving
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 come.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 asking the FBI to investigate. Gerken made a similar request a week later after the American Bar Association.
In the quickly evolving story, Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh testified separately during emotional hearings on Thursday. Blasey Ford said she was “100 percent” certain she was assaulted by Kavanaugh and Kavanaugh forcefully denied the allegation.
On Friday, minutes ahead of a scheduled vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee to send Kavanaugh’s nominiation to the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he could not vote for the judge until the FBI had fully investigated the allegations.
President Donald Trump late Friday ordered the investigation, stipulating it not last more than a week. The Senate Judiciary Committee then voted 11 to 10 to send the confirmation to the Senate floor.
“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.
The New York Times, reporting on the Thomas hearing, wrote this in 1991:
“If Yale Law School, a place that hasn’t always deigned to deal with anything as prosaic as life on earth, is all over the still-unfolding Thomas drama, Mr. Calabresi is at its epicenter. He is perhaps the only person who can attest to the sterling characters of both Judge Thomas and Professor Hill, and has done so.
Calabresi told the committee:
“I like and respect them both, and I have always trusted them both,” he said. “Given the complexity of sexual harassment, I could conceive of a situation in which Clarence Thomas thought he was doing nothing abusive, and Anita Hill thought that what he did was terribly threatening. Which perception is correct is something we all, women and men, will have to decide.”
Kalman said the school continues a tradition of legal realism, which was in place starting in the early twentieth century to the present day. Student activism, which reflects and flows from that realism, has been a big part of the school’s history since the 1960s and, in recent years, especially since Calabresi’s deanship.
Kalman said legal realism, which treats law as a tool of social policy to structure and restructure society, is ingrained in the school’s DNA.
She also addressed the issue of clerkships, which are not a new problem. Young lawyers who get them are
often in line for appointments to the judiciary themselves and as future law school professors, Kalman said.
Kalman said in the 1990s students would sing “Girls just want to be clerks,” to the song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” when more women would seek this prestigious opportunity.
This topic “would would seem to flow from the past,” Kalman said.
Students were upset that Deputy Dean Douglas Kysar, according to the Huffington Post, was aware of inappropriate behavior by California Appellate Judge Alex Kozinski because he clerked for him in 1998. Kysar said he did not tell those in charge when he was a clerk, nor did he tell students now.
Kozinski resigned last year after several women filed sexual harassment charges against him. Kysar explained, according to the Huffington Post, that he had no idea that Kozinski’s behavior included sexual harassment.
On clerkships, Taubus, the 2015 grad, said there is a problem with the way lawyers are being trained. He said the medical school has a system where they are matched with interested hospitals. He said at the school it is too opaque and gives an advantage to students with connections.
“There needs to be more of an honor code to reach the upper echelons,” Taubus said.
He also objected to the expectations for clerks to work 12-hour days, 7 days a week, which is more attuned to indentured servitude as they are completely dependent on the judges for good reviews to advance a career.
The Yale Law School in New Haven.
Yale University students Maryanne Cosgrove, '21, Anna Blech, '19 and Douglas Shao, '21 attend a rally at the Women's Table on campus on Elm Street in New Haven on Wednesday protesting the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.