Harvard Law School has a problem, and that problem is Brett M. Kavanaugh. In 2008, Harvard Law School hired Judge Kavanaugh to teach key rule of law concepts, including separation of powers and the role of the Senate in appointing Supreme Court Justices. The rule of law is an abstract concept, and yet it is one of the most precious fibers holding democratic society together. Crucially, one of the roles of judges and legal academics is to make this abstract concept concrete. In contrast to this esteemed academic role, Kavanaugh’s recent testimony and behavior during his Senate Confirmation hearings makes a mockery of the U.S. Constitution, confirms his disrespect for women, and threatens America’s rule of law.
For these, and unfortunately several other grave reasons, my former classmate Mariel Goetz and I have spearheaded an alumni letter asking Dean Manning to rescind Kavanaugh’s lectureship and cancel the class he is scheduled to teach at Harvard Law in January 2019. As of writing, our letter, penned late night September 28, has over 850 signatures from alumni whose graduation years span from 1959 through 2018. Hourly these signatures are growing. You can read and sign the letter here. As of writing, it appears that Kavanaugh will no longer be teaching at HLS, likely from the pressure exerted by alumni and students. And yet, we haven’t seen an official statement from the Law School confirming this. We are continuing to ask HLS to show moral courage and officially rescind his appointment.
I take no pleasure in requesting that Harvard Law rescind a lectureship, nor is it something that I ever imagined I would do. In fact, I do it with much reservation. I graduated from Harvard Law School in 2010 with a J.D. and a joint degree, and dreams of becoming an academic myself. Currently, I’m a full-time lecturer in law at Brunel University London. For me, teaching law is a dream come true, and it pains me to request that anyone’s academic employment be cancelled. I spend a good deal of time doing the opposite, mentoring people and assisting them to obtain academic posts. Yet, like many people currently speaking out regarding Brett Kavanaugh, I cannot keep silent. The stakes are simply too high.
As we articulate in our letter, there are several key reasons that Judge Kavanaugh has lost his privilege to shape the hearts and minds of Harvard Law students. In a nutshell, he has broken trust in numerous ways, and has proven himself unsuitable to such a role. His moral turpitude disqualifies him from this post.
First, there is the matter of the credible sexual assault allegations against him. For far too long, both law and academia have ignored such claims, blaming and revictimizing those brave enough to come forward. I know firsthand the extreme courage speaking up takes: like Dr. Ford, I was sexually assaulted at the age of 15. Sadly, it was not the last time this would happen. While I’ve gone on to work closely with criminal justice systems around the world, when I found the strength to approach the police for help, I was mistreated, and my case went nowhere. The long, global history of inaction in the face of sexual assault allegations communicates clearly that they will not be taken seriously. In Brett Kavanaugh’s case, there is the added and all too common component of powerful men escaping consequences.
Now more than ever, Harvard Law must send a message that it takes such allegations seriously. Current students have spoken up, communicating to the faculty that they would not feel safe having Kavanaugh return to campus without a full and thorough investigation into the allegations. Anything short of this derides victims of such crimes. Failing to act in the face of such allegations telegraphs clearly: you don’t matter. His life, his desires, his privileges matter more. The way in which Kavanaugh discussed sexual assault during his September 27 testimony is at best tone deaf and at worst callous to the reality of the crime and its impact on victims. We are no longer willing to accept the reign of men who are out of touch with the gravity of sexual violence, and we refuse to hold them up as teachers and leaders.
Secondly, Kavanaugh has demonstrated clearly, and repeatedly, that he has no respect for the principles of law that he was hired to teach. He has done nothing to support an FBI investigation or assist with the subpoenaing of key witnesses, despite his many years of experience with fact-finding as an essential part of the criminal justice cases over which he presided as a Federal Judge. Despite having taught the role of the Senate in Supreme Court appointments, he failed to answer a large percentage of the questions put to him during his September 27 testimony. In addition to this, he belligerently interrupted solely Democratic, mostly female Senators who were, as he well knows, simply doing the job that the Constitution has delegated to them. On top of this, his testimony was profoundly, at times wildly, partisan, even invoking conspiracy theories harkening back to the Clintons. Ironically, it was Kavanaugh in his role as an aide to Kenneth Starr who played a key part in taking down Bill Clinton for perjury, penning a list of sexually graphic questions for Clinton to answer. And yet, he would not answer so many of the questions he was posed on September 27, demonstrating that he thinks himself to be above a system that he asks for the privilege of helming.
Thirdly, as Judge Kavanaugh knows, the canons of judicial conduct in the United States require integrity, impartiality, and political neutrality. He has broken all of these tenets and then some. Kavanaugh likely perjured himself multiple times during his testimony, and nothing can be farther from integrity than lying under oath. Kavanaugh’s insistence on a Senate hearing “the next day” following allegations, as opposed to cooperation with an investigation, communicates that his self interest far outweighs his impartiality. His partisan outbursts and efforts to steam roll his nomination forward demonstrate a complete disregard for the political neutrality required by his job. Sadly, this is not surprising: the American Bar Association raised concerns that Kavanaugh was too overly partisan for his current judicial post back in 2006. It is a pity they were not listened to, especially since he has now made his partisanship so glaringly, and aggressively, apparent. It cannot be stressed enough that Canon 5 requires that “A Judge Should Refrain from Political Activity.” Adhering to this protects democracy; departing from it threatens it.
The course Kavanaugh was slated to teach at Harvard Law in January 2019 is entitled “The Supreme Court since 2005.” A man that has demonstrated what can only be termed contempt for the Supreme Court appointment process, and the norms and values underlying this process, is not fit to teach such a class.
Harvard Law has a Brett Kavanaugh problem, but it also has a clear solution: rescind Kavanaugh’s lectureship appointment. Make a clear and unequivocal statement. In this post #metoo era, stand up and be counted. Listen to the voices of students and alumni. Listen to the voices of victims. Listen to the professional ethical standards that you cannot graduate Harvard Law without studying. Harvard Law School is a powerful institution that acts as one of the most important pipelines to permanent Federal judicial appointments. Its proximity to this power is meaningful, and carries corresponding responsibilities. We are asking that HLS take a stand for justice rather than power, and for moral courage rather than moral turpitude. As alumni, we are speaking directly to you: do the right thing, and rescind Kavanaugh’s lectureship appointment.
The open letter discussed in the post is presented in full below with all signatures as of this writing. You can click on the pages to read them more closely.
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