Flooding the halls of the Yale Law School and the Hart Senate Office Building in D.C. on Monday, over 400 Yale community members protested the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90.
The protests — which followed a second allegation of sexual misconduct against the Supreme Court nominee reported in the New Yorker on Sunday — led to the arrests of Jacob Schriner-Briggs LAW ’21 and Jesse Tripathi LAW ’21, two law students who protested at the Senate Office Building. In addition to the D.C. protests, which drew more than 100 Yale Law students, 300 Yale community members held a sit-in at the Law School, calling for a condemnation of Kavanaugh’s nomination from the school’s administration.
“We are here today to decry misogyny and to stand in solidarity with all those who are affected by sexual harassment,” said Dianne Lake ’16 LAW ’20, an organizer of the sit-in. “We are here to make loud and clear that the Yale Law community doesn’t stand for Brett Kavanaugh.”
In anticipation of the sit-in, faculty members cancelled about 31 of the 49 Monday classes at the Law School to allow students to protest, according to representatives of Yale Law Students Demanding Better, which organized both the demonstrations in New Haven and in D.C.. The sit-in began with a 30-minute period of silence, followed by student remarks on the high stakes of Kavanaugh’s confirmation — which would produce a reliable conservative majority on the Court.
Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., also spoke at the sit-in, thanking students and faculty members for standing up to Kavanaugh and calling for an FBI investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct made by Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez ’87. In the afternoon, the law students in Washington held a joint press conference with Blumenthal and Senator Chris Coons LAW ’92 DIV ’92, D-Del..
“I sit with you, I’m proud to be here in a hallway I spent three years of my life traversing,” Blumenthal said to students. “Today is an opportunity and an occasion to show we stand with survivors of sexual assault.”
Blumenthal vowed to continue pushing for an FBI investigation and urged the White House to call for an impartial fact-finder to investigate the women’s claims. Kavanaugh has denied both allegations, and the White House has stood behind him, calling Ramirez’s accusation “the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man” in a statement.
In D.C., Schriner-Briggs and Tripathi told the News they were arrested by Capitol Police for verbally protesting and blocking the ability to move through a public building by standing in the rotunda of the Senate Office Building. They said they were invited to participate in the protest by activist Ady Barkan LAW ’10 and intended to get arrested, in an effort to show solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and bring attention to the “amazing work of the organizers at Yale Law School.” The students were not convicted of any crimes and were released after about four hours. Dozens of other protestors were also arrested at the Senate Office Building, Schriner-Briggs and Tripathi said.
Students at the sit-in sharply criticized the Law School’s silence on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. On Friday, 50 faculty members signed an open letter addressed to the Senate Judiciary Committee that calls on the Senate to conduct a “fair and deliberate confirmation process” and expresses concern over a potential rushed judgment on Kavanaugh by the Senate.
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., posted a Tweet on Monday, urging the committee to move forward with a hearing on Thursday and “vote in committee soon thereafter.”
Mary Ella Simmons LAW ’20, who helped organize the sit-in, said students are especially frustrated that the Law School has not released an official statement calling for a fair investigation into Ford and Ramirez’s allegations. In July, the Law School released a press release, in which Law School Dean Heather Gerken and four other professors commended Kavanaugh’s accomplishments. Though the Law School has argued it does not endorse nor oppose nominees for office, Simmons said that it was difficult not to read the press release as an endorsement of Kavanaugh.
On Monday, Gerken released another statement commending students, staff and faculty for raising concern about the allegations against Kavanaugh and for working with the Law School to promote discourse around the nomination. Gerken reiterated that she cannot take a position on Kavanaugh’s nomination as dean but said she is proud of the community for engaging in a “long-standing Yale Law School tradition as they engage with the most important issues of the day.”
Still, Kathryn Pogin LAW ’20 said that while she appreciated Gerken’s support for the demonstration, the Law School should take a firmer position on an issue that “isn’t just about politics.”
“This is about ensuring that allegations of sexual violence are given a full and fair hearing before we grant men in the legal profession positions of of power, lifetime tenure and expansive control over the future of our democracy,” Pogin said. “If Yale Law School can’t take a position on fair process, by what right does it have anything to say about justice?”
According to Lake, one of the organizers, the vast majority of professors with Monday classes agreed to cancel their classes and “offered support and solidarity for the organizing efforts.” Still, not all faculty members said they approved of this response. Law School professor Steven Duke said he questioned the cancellation of classes to facilitate student political protests, calling it a “political act which seems academically improper to me.”
Students at the sit-in also shared personal stories about how the allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh have impacted them and later shared demands for the Law School administration to change a culture that they perceive enables sexual misconduct.
Many law students interviewed by the News expressed concern over allegations that law professors were aware of misconduct by judges like Alex Kozinski — a former appellate court judge who quit last year over allegations of improper misconduct and abusive practices toward law clerks. The students also pointed to the anonymous accounts published last week in The Guardian alleging that Law School professor Amy Chua told students it was “no accident” that Kavanaugh’s female clerks “looked like models” and advised female students about their physical appearance.
“This is our career, this is our future livelihood,” said Brandon Willmore LAW ’21. “I’m so proud to have been accepted at YLS … but if we as a body aren’t willing to take action and stand up to those who have been accused of sexual violence, then there’s nothing good to be proud of.”
Over the weekend, Yale Law students put up signs around the school with statements including “YLS, you knew about Kozinski” and “#WheresGerken.”
Lake told the News that she wants greater accountability from Law School faculty regarding judges’ conduct and more transparency around the clerkship hiring process. The Law School’s complicity and failure to report judges’ misconduct has “posed a risk to the safety of students and a threat to general equality in the workplace, particularly in the most prestigious positions in the legal world,” Lake said.
On Saturday, Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld — who is married to Chua and currently under investigation by Yale for misconduct — sent a statement to the Law School community on Chua’s behalf, in which she denied the allegations levied against her.
“Everything that is being said about the advice I give to students applying to Brett Kavanaugh — or any judge — is outrageous, 100 percent false and the exact opposite of everything I have stood for and said for the last fifteen years,” Chua’s statement reads. “My record as a clerkship mentor, especially for women and minorities, is among the things I’m most proud of in my life.”
After the allegations against Chua were published, Gerken wrote in an email to the News that “faculty misconduct has no place at Yale Law School” and that the allegations reported in The Guardian “are of enormous concern to me and to the School.”
President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on July 9.
Alice Park | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Sept. 25: This story incorrectly wrote that faculty cancelled about 30 out of 39 classes when in fact faculty cancelled 31 out of 49 classes.