Two dozen Georgia law professors have added their names to a national letter urging senators to reject Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Professors from Georgia’s four law schools are among more than 1,700 legal scholars who have signed the letter claiming Kavanaugh demonstrated inappropriate partisanship and a lack of judicial temperament while publicly defending himself against sexual assault allegations dating back to when he was in high school.
Kavanaugh’s demeanor when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week prompted Mercer University law professor emeritus Jack Sammons, the Griffin B. Bell Professor of Law at Mercer University School of Law in Macon for 15 years, to join the growing legion of signatories urging the Senate to reject the nomination.
Sammons called Kavanaugh—a sitting judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—a “fragile, manipulated, political, desperate man … despite all his truly good accomplishments.” But he observed that the crucible of a public hearing watched by millions of people as Kavanaugh tried to save his nomination last week may have ultimately been “a truly excellent way of evaluating judges nominated to the Supreme Court.”
“You put them in the situation of someone accused of a crime—rightfully or wrongfully, for that doesn’t really matter—and you watch how they act,” Sammons said.
“How do they respond to the threats to their reputation, to the harm felt by their family, to the embarrassment before their kids?” he said. “How do they respond to the possibility of a judgment upon how they have lived at times in their past? How do they answer the questions asked of them? How do they treat those asking those questions? And how willing are they, despite the threat it may represent to them, to want to pursue the truth, to want justice to prevail?”
“Do they put all of this in the personal terms of the harms done to them?” the Mercer law professor asked. “Or do they act in ways we would admire, were they to act the same way as a judge? Do they retain the demanding virtues of restraint required for judgment even in these circumstances? Or do they anger quickly, respond with little thought, obvious impatience and much unchecked emotion, however understandable that emotion may be?”
The national letter the Georgia law professors signed cited Kavanaugh’s “intemperate, inflammatory and partial” appearance before the Judiciary Committee, where he vehemently defended himself against allegations he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were both in high school.
It also argued that Kavanaugh “displayed a lack of judicial temperament that would be disqualifying for any court, and certainly for elevation to the highest court of this land.”
While the signatories said they hold differing views about Kavanaugh’s other qualifications, they were united in their belief that Kavanaugh was “discourteous” and “partisan.”
Kavanaugh’s nomination is expected to advance to a confirmation vote as early as Saturday after the FBI submitted a quick, but limited supplemental investigation into allegations by Ford and a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, who was Kavanaugh’s Yale University classmate.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegations, and his supporters contend there is a lack of corroborating evidence to support those claims.
By Thursday, 10 Emory law professors, 10 Mercer law professors and two each from the University of Georgia and Georgia State University, signed the national letter. Emory and Mercer are private universities; UGA and Georgia State are public.
Emory law professor Barbara Bennett Woodhouse, director of the law school’s Child Rights Project, said she felt it was her duty to sign the letter.
“I teach and write in the areas of family law, child abuse and intimate partner violence and am very familiar with the research on gender violence and sexual abuse,” Woodhouse said. “Even before Dr. Ford’s and Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony, I had signed a letter along with 250 other law professors teaching in these areas, pointing out the inadequacies in the Senate hearing process and the importance of a thorough, evidence-based and careful investigation of any reports of sexual assault, even if the report happens long after the event. Sexual assault is one of the most underreported and insidious of crimes, and survivors will be discouraged from reporting if they feel their reports will be swept under the rug.”
Woodhouse said she was impressed by Ford’s testimony but “appalled” at Kavanaugh’s conduct.
“He was belligerent, lacking in candor, misstated issues of fact and lashed out with overtly partisan conspiracy allegations,” she said.
“I clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and I know what judicial temperament looks like,” Woodhouse said. “Judge Kavanaugh’s conduct was beyond the pale and showed a complete lack of the impartiality and character required for this incredibly important and difficult job. His conduct, in my view, absolutely disqualifies him.”
Emory law professor and associate dean of faculty Kay Levine said the letter was a chance to tell lawmakers that Kavanaugh does not possess the temperament expected of a justice.
“He was haughty, emotional and unprofessional in his response to appropriate questions from various senators, and I personally believe he was not forthcoming about much of his past behavior,” she added.
Mercer law professor and senior vice provost Gary Simson, a former law school dean, said he signed the letter because a Supreme Court nominee should not be confirmed if there is a substantial doubt about their fitness for the job.
“Judge Kavanaugh, unlike a criminal defendant, is not on trial for his life or liberty,” Simson said. “The Senate is deciding whether he deserves the extraordinary honor and privilege of a lifetime seat on our nation’s highest court.”
Emory law professor Mary L. Dudziak, a past president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, said that, because law professors “are a contentious group,” it is “unprecedented to see this number of legal scholars coming together so quickly.”
“The reason for this is that Judge Kavanaugh displayed a level of partisanship and incivility at the hearing last week that was shocking,” Dudziak said. “Judges are required to be even-handed and unbiased. Even an appearance of bias is improper. Kavanaugh’s lack of control at the hearing suggests that he lacks the judicial temperament required for the Supreme Court.”
Dudziak also said Ford’s testimony was powerful and Kavanaugh’s “dismissal of her was shameful,” while his own explanations were “unconvincing.”
Emory law school professor Martha Albertson Fineman said she signed the letter because Kavanaugh displayed neither impartiality nor a judicial temperament in responding to Ford’s allegations. She added that the integrity of the court is vital for the rule of law.
“All doubts about a nominee and the process that confirms him or her must be resolved with that in mind.”
Leslie Street, an associate professor of law at Mercer and director of the law library, said she signed the letter over concerns about making the Supreme Court more partisan, and Kavanaugh’s “imperfect relationship with the truth when it comes to his own self-interest.”
“I worry about the precedent it sets when we have justices who put their own interests above their constitutional obligations and the good of the country,” she said. “I don’t see any evidence that Kavanaugh has had any concern for the latter during his confirmation hearings.”
Emory law professor Deborah Dinner said she signed both the national Senate letter and a separate letter co-signed by 900 women law professors opposing Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Dinner said Kavanaugh “showed a lack of respect for the gravity of the allegations against him and a disinterest in a full investigation of the facts”
“His belligerent mannerism, the disrespect he showed female senators, in particular, and his suggestion that the allegations against him were part of a left-wing conspiracy demonstrated a partiality and temperament highly inappropriate for a justice of the Supreme Court,” she added. “In addition, I think his appointment in the face of credible allegations that he committed sexual assault, as well as ongoing uncertainty about the facts of the incidents in question, would send a message that undermines women’s equality and rights to bodily integrity.”