On Friday morning, in a major pivot from her earlier stance, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken called for an additional investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 before his confirmation vote.
As the news of the allegations broke, Gerken repeatedly declined to endorse or oppose the nominee given her position as Dean. But Friday morning, hours after the American Bar Association sent a letter urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to postpone Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote until after an FBI inquiry into the allegations, Gerken followed suit, calling for a full investigation.
“I join the American Bar Association in calling for an additional investigation into allegations made against Judge Kavanaugh,” Gerken said in the statement. “Proceeding with the confirmation process without further investigation is not in the best interest of the Court or our profession.”
On Friday afternoon — exactly one day after hearing the testimonies of Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who accused the nominee of sexually assaulting her in 1982 — the Senate Judiciary Committee initially voted along party lines to move forward with Kavanaugh’s nomination.
However, Friday afternoon, key undecided senators demanded an investigation into Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct allegations. Hours after being confronted by two women who urged him to consider the plight of sexual assault survivors, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, told Senate Republican leaders he would not vote for Kavanaugh in the full Senate without an FBI investigation first.
Late Friday, at the request of Senate Republican leaders, President Donald Trump ordered the FBI to reopen a background investigation into Kavanaugh and examine the sexual misconduct allegations against him. The abrupt move delayed a full Senate vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination by a week. Kavanaugh has been accused of three instances of sexual misconduct from his time in high school and his time at Yale College by Ford, Deborah Ramirez ’87 and Julie Swetnick. The FBI is currently investigating the allegations made by Ford and Ramirez.
In July, the Law School issued a controversial press release, in which Gerken and four Yale law professors lauded Kavanaugh’s legal accomplishments and mentorship. But as of Friday morning, the statement, which prompted a letter from students and alumni criticizing the school for boasting Kavanaugh’s accomplishments, had been updated. One of the faculty member’s remarks has since been removed, and the statement now clearly articulates that the press release does not constitute an endorsement.
“Yale Law School is a nonpartisan institution. While individual faculty members may make comments regarding a particular candidate, the Law School neither endorses nor opposes candidates for office,” the press release reads. “This notwithstanding, the statement below has been interpreted by some, understandably, as an endorsement of Brett Kavanaugh. It was not intended as such, and does not constitute an endorsement. The Law School regrets any confusion over this issue.”
Gerken joins dozens of faculty members who have already called for a fair confirmation process.
Last Friday, 50 Yale Law faculty members — not including Gerken — penned an open letter, calling for the Senate Judiciary Committee to conduct a “fair and deliberate confirmation process” by investigating the allegations against Kavanaugh before advancing his nomination.
In response to the faculty letter, Gerken said she supported the efforts of individual faculty members to “engage with these important issues” but said she could not take a position “for or against a nominee.”
In protests at Yale Law School this week, some students criticized Yale Law administrators for not taking a stronger stance on the allegations against Kavanaugh. On Wednesday evening, Leanne Gale LAW ’20 told the News that she and many classmates were “incredibly disappointed” by Gerken’s silence after allegations of sexual misconduct came out against Kavanaugh. She added that Yale Law should “not only retract the press release” but also acknowledge that it read like an endorsement.
But Jeff Zalesin LAW ’19 commended Gerken for her statement Friday morning.
“As I am far from the first to point out, calling for a professional investigation into credible allegations of sexual violence before voting on Judge Kavanaugh’s promotion to the Supreme Court should not be a partisan stance,” Zalesin wrote in an email to the News. “I’m glad Dean Gerken now agrees.”
Last Monday, 300 Yale Law students, faculty members and undergraduates participated in a sit-in to protest Kavanaugh’s confirmation and to call on the Law School to take a firmer stance on the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh. That same day, over 100 Yale Law School students protested in Washington, D.C.
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