UO law professors sign letter in NY Times calling for Senate to not confirm Kavanaugh

Nineteen University of Oregon law school professors joined more than 2,400 law professors from across the country in signing a letter published in the New York Times calling on the United States Senate to not confirm Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

The letter, which was presented to the Senate on Oct. 4, did not address the sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh, but rather criticized the judge’s temperament and decorum during his hearing last week in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I was struck by how he was treating the legislature,” UO law professor and signee of the letter Kristen Bell said. ”In the courtroom, he wouldn’t tolerate a defendant talking back to him.”

Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation has dominated the news cycle in recent weeks after three women accused him of sexual assault and misconduct during his time in high school at Georgetown Prep in Maryland and his time in college at Yale University. One of Kavanaugh’s accusers, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

Kavanaugh testified after Ford, and following both parties’ testimony, the White House ordered an FBI investigation into the incident before the Senate could vote on whether they would confirm the nominee. The bureau’s investigation ended on Thursday and found “no corroboration” of the allegations. The Senate is expected to vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Saturday.

During the hearing, Kavanaugh talked back to senators who asked him questions about his drinking habits during his time in high school and college. In one exchange, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked Kavanaugh if he had ever drank so much the night before that he did not remember what happened the next day, to which he asked her, “Have you?”

“Those questions were very relevant, and there was lots of evidence that he drank heavily in high school and college. When you drink heavily at that age with your friends I’m not sure you remember everything, and I felt that he was not being honest,” said Caroline Forell, a UO law professor who signed the letter. “He never really addressed that in an honest way. When he turned that on her, that was the point in which I went ‘Woah.’”

Kavanaugh responded to critics of his temperament in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, saying that his tone was “sharp” but only because it reflected his “overwhelming frustration at being wrongly accused, without corroboration, of horrible conduct completely contrary to [his] record and character.”

Bell, who was the second UO law professor to sign the letter, also criticized Kavanaugh’s description of the accusations against him during his hearing, particularly when he referred to them as a “calculated and orchestrated political hit.”

“It was so partisan that if I were a litigant appearing before him I could not trust that he was impartial. There are two critical aspects I think are important for a judge, one thing is that they are impartial and the public trusts they are impartial, and that trust for me shattered when he was testifying,” Bell said. “I worry about the legitimacy of the court, the legal profession and the rule of law.”

Although the New York Times letter did not address the sexual assault accusations against Kavanaugh, Bell, who used to work at Yale Law School, said that she found Ford’s testimony to be compelling.

“I was really struck by her testimony and how credible she was. I worked with people who were survivors of sexual assault, and I don’t think she could’ve acted in a way that made her anymore credible,” Bell said. “I was also really impressed with her composure and courage. I think she acted with grace under pressure, and it was empowering at the same time it was horrifically tragic.”

Kavanaugh described himself as “even-keeled” in his op-ed, and said he will maintain that attribute going forward, a quality that Forell says is necessary for a judge.

“You need to be even-keeled as a judge, even if you have a lot of emotion,” Forell said. “You need to not lose your cool.”

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