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Some Harvard Law Professors Call for Investigation into Kavanaugh Allegations

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

Several Harvard Law School professors said they were troubled by the sexual assault allegations recently levelled against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh and called for further investigation into his alleged misbehavior.

When President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh in July to fill Anthony M. Kennedy’s seat, many thought the conservative judge would sail through the confirmation process despite unified opposition from Senate Democrats. But all that changed after at least two women publicly alleged over the past two weeks that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted them decades ago.

Kavanaugh has taught as a lecturer at the Law School since 2008, and a number of professors and Law School Dean John F. Manning lauded him in the days after Trump announced his nomination. In the wake of the assault allegations, though, some of Kavanaugh's colleagues at the school have joined a growing chorus calling for a serious investigation into the allegations — and for senators to vote against Kavanaugh if the women's stories are true.

Law School Professor Michael J. Klarman, a constitutional law scholar, wrote in an email Sunday that, while some have argued that Kavanaugh’s actions as a 17-year-old are not relevant to the judge's ability to serve on the Court, he does not buy that reasoning.

“I certainly agree with the idea that we should be pretty forgiving toward youthful mistakes.  But attempted rape is a really serious charge. And serving on the Supreme Court is a privilege, not a right,” Klarman wrote. “So my view, though I think reasonable people can differ on this, is that if he committed the assault, as alleged, his confirmation should be rejected.”

Kavanaugh’s first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, came forward almost two weeks ago after an anonymous letter she sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) detailing her allegations over the summer was leaked to the press. In an interview with the Washington Post, Ford said that Kavanaugh forced her onto a bed, pressed his body to hers, and attempted to remove her clothes while both were attending a house party in 1982.

Deborah Ramirez, Kavanaugh’s second accuser, came forward a few days later. Ramirez told the New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself and pushed his penis in her face at a party held in a dorm room when both were freshmen at Yale.

Ford and Kavanaugh are both set to testify Thursday in a nationally broadcasted hearing; the Senate Judiciary Committee will then vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation Friday. Ramirez has not been called to testify. Kavanaugh has vehemently denied both women’s allegations, and Trump has said he will stand behind his nominee.

Law Professor Laurence H. Tribe ’62 took his views on the Kavanaugh confirmation process to Twitter Monday.

“Closing ranks around Kavanaugh even before Dr.Blasey Ford testifies is proof positive that these Trumpsters either (1) don’t regard an attempted rape and a nominee’s false denials as relevant and/or (2) are ready to disbelieve her without listening,” Tribe wrote.

Tribe expanded on his thoughts in an email to The Crimson.

“Either branch of that dilemma reveals an ugly truth about the premises of the pro-Kavanaugh line of defense," he wrote. "I began as someone who personally liked and professionally admired Brett Kavanaugh despite our many legal and philosophical disagreements. At this point I’m deeply troubled by the way he has let himself become a battering ram against the women who have had the courage to say what they recall him doing to them."

Klarman agreed, arguing that the Republicans are not taking the investigation of the women’s claims seriously and that the Senate Judiciary Committee must gather more evidence. Ford previously requested an FBI investigation into her allegation, but the Senate committee denied the request.

“It is hard to understand how Republicans can justify not conducting a more thorough investigation than it appears they will do,” Klarman wrote. “But I suppose that, given their willingness  to ‘steal’ a Supreme Court seat from President Obama (the Garland seat), we shouldn't be surprised that they would countenance extraordinary departures from procedural regularity to see the solid conservative majority on the Supreme Court that they have dreamed of for generations.”

Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet ’62 wrote via email that the Thursday hearings should be postponed pending an investigation.

“I don’t know what effect the allegations will have. I believe they should have the effect of persuading the Committee majority and the Senate as a whole to postpone the hearings pending a full and fair investigation of the allegations,” she wrote.

Five other Harvard Law professors contacted by The Crimson declined to comment on Kavanaugh.

In the wake of the allegations, students at the Law school have protested his nomination. On Monday, several hundred Harvard affiliates walked out of class to stand in solidarity with Ford and Ramirez. Many of the protesters donned bright pink “I Believe Christine Blasey Ford” pins.

Four students earlier authored a Harvard Law Record article calling on the University to bar Kavanaugh from teaching until a "full and fair investigation" is conducted into the sexual misconduct allegations against him. Kavanaugh is slated to teach a course titled “The Supreme Court Since 2005” during the Law School's 2019 winter term, which takes place over three weeks in January.

Law School administrators have repeatedly refused to say whether they still plan to allow Kavanaugh to teach the class.

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

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