For the past two months, members of the Yale community — professors, alumni and students — have weighed in on U.S. President Donald Trump’s nomination of Yale alumnus Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But during the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing last week, a few select Yalies had the chance to voice their opinions of Kavanaugh on a grand stage, before the Senate and the nation.
On Friday, Kavanaugh’s former teacher — Yale Law School professor Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84 — his law school roommate Kenneth Christmas LAW ’91 and running buddy and school teacher Louisa Garry ’87 all spoke in his favor. New York University Law School professor Melissa Murray LAW ’02, who specializes in constitutional, family and reproductive rights law, and Boston University School of Law professor Rebecca Ingber ’00, who is an expert on law of war and international law as they relate to presidential powers, spoke against him.
Within days of Kavanaugh’s nomination as associate justice to the Supreme Court, over 900 Yale Law School alumni, students and professors had signed a petition criticizing a Law School press release lauding its alumnus.
The letter highlighted common concerns voiced by liberals about Kavanaugh’s potential appointment, especially the possibility that a conservative majority on the court could mean the end of the protections for abortion established by Roe v. Wade.
Amar, a self-proclaimed liberal who taught Kavanaugh when he was a student at the Law School, tried to assuage Democratic senators’ fears during his testimony and to prove to liberals that Kavanaugh is their best option with a Republican president in office.
“Responsible naysayers must become yaysayers of a sort; they must specifically name better nominees realistically on the horizon. If not Brett, who?” Amar said “Our party controls neither the White House nor the Senate. If you torpedo Kavanaugh, you’ll likely end up with someone worse — less brilliant, less constitutionally knowledgeable, less studious, less open-minded, less good for America.”
He also argued that Kavanaugh’s constitutional views on certain issues — voting rights, governmental immunities, congressional power to enforce the Reconstruction Amendments — may better suit liberals than those of Kavanaugh’s predecessor, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement earlier this year.
In an interview with the News, Murray, the NYU Law School professor, said that while she had “nothing but respect” for Amar, she “fundamentally” disagreed with his reasons for supporting Kavanaugh.
“You don’t make a decision based on ‘this is the best that liberals can do,’” Murray said.
In her testimony, Murray, who teaches constitutional law and reproductive rights, defended the Roe v. Wade decision and discussed Kavanaugh’s views the case. She cited the only abortion case to come before Kavanaugh during his time on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in which he voted to block an undocumented minor from receiving an abortion.
“To be clear, Roe v. Wade is not a decision invented by activist judges. It is part of a century’s worth of jurisprudence that protects a higher constellation of rights, rights related to family, marriage, parenthood, contraception and personal autonomy in intimate life,” Murray said. “A vote against Roe, whether to overrule it as a formal matter or gut it through incremental cuts, puts all of those rights in jeopardy. And make no mistake about it, a vote for Judge Kavanaugh is a vote against Roe.”
Testimony from Christmas and Garry — both of whom identify as liberal — offered a window into the kind of person Kavanaugh is off the bench.
Garry, who met Kavanaugh at the beginning of their first year at Yale College, trained with Kavanaugh for the Boston Marathon, and the duo ran the marathon two more times — in 2010 and 2015. A sprinter for Yale’s track team, Garry told the Judicial Committee that she and Kavanaugh often talked about the benefits of youth sports in raising “strong, independent girls and women with confident voices.”
Along with nine of Kavanaugh’s other female classmates from Yale College, Garry sent a letter last week to the Judiciary Committee praising Kavanaugh’s character and emphasizing his support of women’s athletics during his time at Yale. Garry did not respond to a request for comment.
Addressing the Senate, Murray said that testimony from figures like Garry and Christmas, who spoke of Kavanaugh’s kindness towards his clerks and those in the community, “resonated with her,” since she and Kavanaugh have traveled in similar professional circles. She said she can attest to his “charming demeanor.”
Still, she told the News that discussion of Kavanaugh’s personal life, such as his support of women’s athletics, distracts from the important issue at hand.
“It’s important to remember that you can be a great mentor and friend to the women who work with you and the women with whom you socialize and still be bad for women as a judge,” Murray said.
Christmas argued that Kavanaugh’s record as a friend, son and father is testament to the type of judge he would be.
“So you might ask, what does coaching basketball, showing up at each other’s weddings, listening to my experiences as a black man living in America or attending a funeral have to do with determining whether Judge Kavanaugh should become a Supreme Court justice?” Christmas said. “The answer is, it speaks directly to his humanity.”
Amar told the News that overall, the temperature in the room was “lower” on Friday — the final day of testimony, which he said could be a sign that people are “beginning to recognize that this nomination appears to be on track.” He noted that in addition to all the Yale alumni testifying, several of the senators on the Judiciary Committee asking the questions also attended Yale, including Cory Booker LAW ’97, Amy Klobuchar ’82 and Ben Sasse GRD ’04.
In a moment of levity during a contentious hearing, Booker saved one particular question for Amar, his former law professor — “In your law class, do you regret passing me?”
Amar replied that the only time he ever edited his own Wikipedia page was to add Booker’s name to the list of his “former notable students.”
“I’m so proud to be associated with you, even if we disagree on this issue, as we may very well,” Amar said.
If confirmed, Kavanaugh will join three other Yale Law School alumni on the nation’s highest court. But he will be the only justice with a degree from Yale College.
Adelaide Feibel | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Sep. 10: A previous version of this story did not mention Yale alumna and Boston University law professor Rebecca Ingber ’00, who testified before congress on the final panel on Friday regarding Kavanaugh’s views on presidential powers. The story has been updated accordingly.