Married Yale Law School professors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld are under intense scrutiny after The Guardian reported on Thursday that the two faculty members separately told female law students interviewing with Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 that the Supreme Court nominee prefers female clerks who are good-looking and attractively dressed.
Last year, Chua privately told a group of law school students that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s female clerks “looked like models,” according to The Guardian’s account, which was based on interviews with anonymous law students. She recommended that female clerks dress in an “outgoing way,” The Guardian reported.
The Guardian also reported that Rubenfeld is the subject of an internal Yale Law School investigation focusing on his conduct toward female students, among other issues. Later on Thursday, the legal news website Above the Law reported that the law school has hired Title IX investigator Jenn Davis to look into Rubenfeld’s conduct, including allegations that he inappropriately commented on female students’ appearances and drove with his students while drunk. The law blog attributed that information to an email circulated to law school alumni this summer but did not specify who sent it.
Chua and Rubenfeld did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday. Chua cancelled her classes at the beginning of the semester after being hospitalized with a serious, undisclosed illness. But in email statements to The Guardian, neither professor denied telling students that Kavanaugh preferred attractive female clerks.
Yale Law School spokeswoman Janet Conroy said that this was the first time the law school has heard claims about such advice being given to students.
“We will look into these claims promptly, taking into account the fact that Professor Chua is currently unreachable due to serious illness,” Conroy wrote in a statement to the News. “If true, this advice is clearly unacceptable.”
Conroy added that the law school did not send out the email cited by Above the Law, which did not respond to inquiries about the origin of the email.
Dean of Yale Law School Heather Gerken wrote in an email to the law school community on Thursday that the allegations reported in The Guardian “are of enormous concern to me and to the School.”
“The Law School has a responsibility to provide a safe environment in which all of our students can live and learn in a community of mutual respect, free of harassment of any kind. I take this responsibility extraordinarily seriously,” Gerken wrote. “Faculty misconduct has no place at Yale Law School. You have my word that we will take appropriate action on any complaints.”
Kavanaugh has come under fire in the past week after California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward with the bombshell allegation that he forcibly held her down and attempted to sexually assault her when they were in high school in the 1980s.
Since U.S. President Donald Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination two months ago, many of the judge’s clerks and former law school professors have enthusiastically vouched for him. While some faculty members and alumni have criticized the nomination and Yale’s enthusiastic response to it, the likes of Chua and Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84 have defended Kavanaugh as a supporter of women and an impartial interpreter of the Constitution.
Chua is a vocal supporter of Kavanaugh; in July, she penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal calling Kavanaugh a “mentor to women.” Her daughter accepted a clerkship with the judge last year.
“If the judge is confirmed, my daughter will probably be looking for a different clerkship. But for my own daughter, there is no judge I would trust more than Brett Kavanaugh to be, in one former clerk’s words, ‘a teacher, advocate, and friend,’” Chua wrote.
Law professor George Priest ’69 told the News he had no knowledge of the allegations that Chua and Rubenfeld advised women to dress like models before interviews with Kavanaugh. Priest said he knew Kavanaugh as a student and has served as a reference for him.
“I am skeptical that appearance made any difference in whom he chose as clerks,” Priest said.
A former Yale Law School student and female law clerk for Kavanaugh, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of receiving hate mail and threats, said she does not know what “misguided advice” some students have received about how to best prepare for clerkships.
The former clerk defended Kavanaugh, saying he chooses clerks based on their qualifications and intellect. The integrity of Kavanaugh’s clerk selection process manifests in the fact that 39 out of Kavanaugh’s 48 clerks have gone on to clerk at the Supreme Court, she said.
“To suggest anything to the contrary is irresponsible and offensive,” she added.
Asked to comment on the internal investigation into Rubenfeld, Conroy told the News that she can neither confirm nor deny any complaints or investigations. In her communitywide email, Gerken said she could not comment on individual misconduct cases.
But in a statement to The Guardian, Rubenfeld wrote that Yale informed him in June that the University was conducting an “informal review” of allegations against him. Rubenfeld said he was not given any specifics to preserve the anonymity of the complainants. He said he was informed that the allegations were not the type that would “jeopardize [his] position as a long-tenured member of the faculty.”
Gerken wrote in her communitywide email that the law school and the University “thoroughly investigate” all misconduct complaints and “take no options off the table.”
“Neither the law school nor the University prejudge the outcomes of investigations. Any statement to the contrary are inaccurate,” Gerken wrote.
A free-speech warrior, Rubenfeld told The Guardian he suspected that these allegations are just another “personal attack” in response to his writing on “difficult and controversial but important topics in the law.”
“While I believe strongly that universities must conduct appropriate reviews of any allegations of misconduct, I am also deeply concerned about the intensifying challenges to the most basic values of due process and free, respectful academic expression and exchange at Yale and around the country,” Rubenfeld said.
Chua is best known for her 2011 book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” which advocates a highly demanding approach to parenting. In 2014, the couple co-wrote “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America” to mixed reviews.
During his time at the law school, Kavanaugh was a notes editor for the Yale Law Journal.
Adelaide Feibel | firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarification, Sept. 21: A previous version of this story omitted the fact that Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken wrote in her community wide email that the Law School and the University do not prejudge investigation outcomes. The story has been updated to reflect this fact.