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More than 300 Harvard Law School students and affiliates signed an online petition calling on the school to provide a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice before Inauguration Day.
The petition is sponsored by the People’s Parity Project — a law student organization that aims to reform the legal profession — and has been signed by notable alumni including Former Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Mass.), and Professor Emeritus Laurence H. Tribe ’62.
Following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September, President Donald J. Trump nominated Judge Amy V. Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The nomination — which took place only weeks before this November’s federal election — drew immediate criticism from several members of the Law School faculty, including Tribe.
The authors of the petition claim U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who supports Barrett’s nomination, contradicted his 2016 stance on filling Court vacancies during presidential election years. Four years ago, McConnell opposed former U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempt to fill a Supreme Court vacancy left by former Justice Antonin Scalia in March 2016.
“When Justice Antonin Scalia died nine months before the election, McConnell refused to give Judge Merrick Garland a hearing, citing the impending election,” the petition reads. “There, the election was months out; here, the election has already begun.”
Daniel S. Medwed, a Law School graduate and former Visiting Professor of Law, said he shares the petitioners’ concerns about Coney Barrett’s nomination. He claimed the reversal of the Republican Party’s stance from 2016 has made him “feel as though the process is illegitimate and that we shouldn’t abide by it.”
Third-year Harvard Law student Brendan Schneiderman, an author of the petition, said a Supreme Court nomination before the next president is inaugurated will create a conservative majority on the Court that may jeopardize legislation Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden Jr. plans to support if elected President in November.
“It’s concerning from a democratic perspective because we’re in the midst of an election right now,” he said. “I think a lot of folks on campus and in the Harvard community, generally, were feeling the same kind of angst and frustration and disappointment that this, you know, travesty of a confirmation was going to go forward.”
Schneiderman also noted that Law School administrators sent emails to students about honoring Justice Ginsburg’s legacy and values. Still, members of the People’s Parity Project felt the school needed to specifically oppose Barrett’s confirmation.
“It was an underwhelming message, I think when, when it was coupled with a complete silence about what was going on in the Senate,” he said.
The petition argues that if the Law School demands the Senate to keep Ginsburg’s seat open until after Inauguration Day, other institutions would follow with similar demands. It also states the Law School’s opposition to the nomination would assure students and affiliates of its commitment to fairness.
“If the Law School cares about the legitimacy of the Court, if it wants its students to believe in the rule of law and advocate for equal justice, if Dean Manning truly hopes that we ‘honor’ and ‘celebrate’ the values that Justice Ginsburg embodied, then we ask: how can the Law School be silent now?” the petition reads.
Law School spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote in an email that the Law School serves students, staff, alumni, and faculty with a diverse array of viewpoints and opinions.
“Rather than seeking to express a view for the institution as a whole, the Law School embraces the pluralism of our community and supports its members in their right to express their own views,” he wrote.
Medwed, however, said he feels it is important for the Law School to denounce the nomination due to leading law schools’ influence over the legal system.
“Harvard Law School, of course, is one of the most elite institutions in the country, and for the institution to say this process is not appropriate — this is not how it should work, this is not how it has worked — I think would be potentially meaningful,” Medwed said.
“Would it stop the ball rolling? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done,” he added.
—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.
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