Federal Courts and Nominations

Brett Kavanaugh Hired Four Women as Law Clerks

“He told me, ‘You should know that Judge Kavanaugh hires women with a certain look.’”

Accused sexual assaulter and new Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh is the first-ever justice to have an all-female staff — a move he promised during his Senate confirmation hearings, following a report from The Guardian that alleged two Yale law professors had coached students on their appearance when applying for jobs with Kavanaugh; one of them noted to students that it was “no accident” that female law students who “looked like models” served as his clerks in the past.

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh said that, after reading about the inequality between men and women hired for prestigious clerkships (in 2006, just 7 of the 37 law clerkships were women), he decided to hire a majority of women during his decade on the D.C. circuit, The Washington Post reported.

On Sunday, October 7, The New York Times first reported the names of Kavanaugh’s new clerks: Shannon Grammel, Kim Jackson, Megan Lacy, and Sara Nommensen. All four are incredibly qualified for the position.

The Post laid out the new clerks’ careers up to this point: Grammel is a former president of the Stanford Law Review, Lacy worked on the White House team to confirm Kavanaugh, Nommensen worked at the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel, and Jackson worked for Kavanaugh on the appeals court. Jackson is one of three African- Americans clerking for the Supreme Court this term, and two-thirds of African-Americans currently clerking for the Supreme Court had previously worked for Kavanaugh, the Post reported.

“In my time on the bench, no federal judge — not a single one in the country — has sent more women law clerks to clerk on the Supreme Court than I have,” Kavanaugh said during his Senate hearing, adding: “If confirmed, I’ll be the first justice in the history of the Supreme Court to have a group of all-women law clerks. That is who I am.”

Kavanaugh didn’t mention, however, that two Yale law professors allegedly used to advise students about their physical appearance if they were interested in working for him. While there is no allegation that Kavanaugh chose his clerks exclusively because of their appearance, or that any of them were anything but incredibly qualified, these Yale professors allegedly implied to their students that their appearance definitely mattered to the judge.

According to sources who spoke to The Guardian in a report published last month, Amy Chua, a Yale professor who endorsed Kavanaugh as a “mentor to women,” told a group of law students in 2017 that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s law clerks “looked like models.” She’s alleged to have suggested to some students that, if they wanted to get a clerkship with the judge, they “could dress to exude a ‘model-like’ femininity.”

One source told The Guardian that she was so put off by Chua’s advice that she decided not to pursue a clerkship with Kavanaugh. Another said that she was told to send Chua different outfit options and that she should dress in an “outgoing” way. She did not send Chua any photos.

The Guardian reported that, according to sources, Chua’s husband, Jed Rubenfeld, allegedly echoed her sentiment to prospective clerks.

“[Rubenfeld] told me, ‘You should know that Judge Kavanaugh hires women with a certain look,’” one woman told The Guardian. “He did not say what the look was and I did not ask.”

According to sources who spoke to The Guardian, Chua and Rubenfeld reportedly did not give the same advice to students attempting to get clerkships with other judges.

“It is possible that they were making observations but not following edicts from him,” one student who said she received instructions from the couple said. “I have no reason to believe he was saying, ‘Send me the pretty ones,’ but rather that he was reporting back and saying, ‘I really like so and so,’ and the way he described them led them to form certain conclusions.”

Following the report in The Guardian, Chua denied all allegations in a statement to NBC News, calling them “outrageous, 100% false, and the exact opposite of everything I have stood for and said for the last 15 years.” In an emailed statement to The Guardian in response to their report, Chua said, “For the more than 10 years I’ve known him, Judge Kavanaugh’s first and only litmus test in hiring has been excellence. He hires only the most qualified clerks, and they have been diverse as well as exceptionally talented and capable.”

Yale Law School said that it’s looking into the claims about Chua, and Rubenfeld responded as well, saying in a statement to The Guardian that he was already under “informal review” for unknown allegations against him: “I do not know what I am alleged to have said or done. I was further advised that the allegations were not of the kind that would jeopardize my position as a long-tenured member of the faculty.”

“For some years, I have contended with personal attacks and false allegations in reaction to my writing on difficult and controversial but important topics in the law,” Rubenfeld said. “I have reason to suspect I am now facing more of the same.” Rubenfeld expressed concern regarding “the intensifying challenges to the most basic values of due process and free, respectful academic expression and exchange at Yale and around the country.” He added that he was “ready to engage” with the process.

In response to the new postings of women on Kavanaugh’s team, activists are arguing that it will take a lot more than appointing women to his clerkships to undo the damage done by his contentious nomination process, in which multiple women said he sexually assaulted them.

“I applaud, in general, a commitment to hiring a diverse group of clerks, and hope all the justices encourage applicants of color, women, and those with backgrounds beyond the usual elite,” Elizabeth B. Wydra, the president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a group that opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination, told The New York Times on October 7. “Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more than female clerks to undo the damage to the legitimacy of the court done by this travesty of a confirmation process. Women will feel much more confident in the court when their fundamental rights are protected and their equal dignity is respected in the rulings handed down by the justices.”

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