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Harvard Law Students Agitate Against Kavanaugh As Dean Seeks to Explain His Silence On Nominee

Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh speaking at Harvard Law School's bicentennial celebration in Oct. 2017.
Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh speaking at Harvard Law School's bicentennial celebration in Oct. 2017. By Courtesy of Martha Stewart
By Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writer

As the showdown over Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation continues to grip the country, Harvard Law School students are not letting up in their efforts to prevent Kavanaugh — who teaches at the school — from reaching the nation’s highest court.

The Pipeline Parity Project — a Law School student advocacy group — and the Law School Democrats have organized phone banks in concert with Planned Parenthood this week to rally voters in key states to call their senators and tell them to vote no on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Their entreaties follow a dramatic Senate hearing in Washington, D.C. last week in which Palo Alto psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford elaborated in vivid detail on her allegations that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when the two were teenagers in suburban Maryland in the 1980s. Ford is one of at least two women who have publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in recent weeks, roiling a confirmation process that once seemed straightforward.

Ford first came forward with her allegations in an interview with the Washington Post, alleging that Kavanaugh pushed her onto a bed, attempted to remove her clothes, pressed his body onto hers, and covered her mouth when she tried to yell for help while at a party in high school. Ford repeated these allegations — tearfully asserting that she believed at the time Kavanaugh was going to rape her — when she testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

Following Ford’s interview with the Post, a former classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale, Deborah Ramirez, came forward with her own allegations of sexual assault. Ramirez told the New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself and pushed his penis in her face at a party both attended while freshmen at Yale.

Kavanaugh has “categorically and unequivocally” denied the allegations levied against him, and he forcefully repeated those denials at Thursday’s hearing.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court around 1:45 p.m. Friday — less than 24 hours after Ford and Kavanaugh testified. But in a surprising turn of events, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called for a one-week delay of the full Senate vote on Kavanaugh's nomination until an FBI investigation “limited in time and scope” is completed.

Kavanaugh — who has taught at the Law School as a visiting lecturer since 2008 — is scheduled to teach his course “The Supreme Court Since 2005” in Jan. 2019. Since Ford stepped forward last month, Law students have penned an op-ed and held protests calling on the school to bar the judge from teaching pending a school investigation into the allegations.

Law School administrators have repeatedly declined to comment on the future of Kavanaugh’s position at the school, citing school policy not to comment on “personnel matters.”

Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 had not commented publicly on Kavanaugh until late last week. After receiving a flood of emails from concerned students, Manning sent a missive to the student body Friday seeking to account for his silence.

In his email, he wrote that, though he knows many students are “unsatisfied with the answer that we cannot comment on personnel matters in particular cases… the policy serves important purposes even in stressful times.”

“Still, I can provide you this assurance:  When concerns and allegations arise about individuals in our teaching program, we take those concerns and allegations seriously, conduct necessary inquiries, complete our process, and then act,” he added.

Asked whether the school is investigating Kavanaugh, Law School spokesperson Robb London again declined to comment.

In addition to campus activism aimed at preventing Kavanaugh from returning to Cambridge, Law School students involved in the phone bank are hoping to change minds further from home.

The students are specifically concentrating their efforts on several states whose senators will cast critical votes to determine Kavanaugh’s fate: North Dakota, West Virginia, and Arizona.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.), Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) — all considered swing votes — supported the delay and investigation Flake set in motion Friday. Phone bankers hope to persuade voters to encourage the senators to go a step further and vote down Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The groups have held two sessions at the Law School and made over 1,000 calls thus far, they said. They plan to hold two more phone banks over the coming week.

Second-year Law student Emma R. Janger, a member of the Pipeline Parity Project and one of the organizers of the phone banks, said the phone banks offers students a way to translate their frustration into action.

“People are really, really energized and they really want to push their senators on this and that’s been just honestly, really energizing to hear,” Janger said. “I think sometimes this has kind of felt like a pretty hopeless week but talking to people who are in a position to really affect their senators’ votes and hearing how energized they are is giving me personally a lot of hope.”

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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