Students of Yale’s prestigious law school have claimed they were advised to cultivate a “model-like” femininity in their bid to win a clerkship in Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s chambers. In a story reported by The Guardian, several anonymous sources claim that Professor Amy Chua — who has strongly endorsed the Supreme Court nominee as a “mentor to women” — privately told a group of students that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s female law clerks all “looked like models,” and advised them on their appearance before interviewing to work with him. Within hours of the story being published Yale Law School’s dean weighed in on the claims, calling for people with similar experiences to bring those complaints to the proper authorities at the university.
The comments are said to have taken place last year during a conversation between Chua and a group of students she mentored, in which the #MeToo movement and the accountability of the federal judiciary were discussed. Kavanaugh’s name came up following discussion of his mentor, Judge Alex Kozinski, who was forced to retire from the bench in 2017 after more than a dozen women accused him of harassment.
Kavanaugh’s clerks have often come from Yale, his alma mater, over the years, and Chua has been influential in vetting them — a process some students have come forward to say made them extremely uncomfortable. One source told The Guardian in at least one case, the advice — and what it might suggest — was sufficient to deter the woman from pursuing a clerkship with Kavanaugh.
In another, Chua’s husband Jed Rubenfeld — also an influential law professor at Yale — spoke about “looks” with an aspiring clerk. “He told me, ‘You should know that Judge Kavanaugh hires women with a certain look,’” she told The Guardian. “He did not say what the look was and I did not ask.”
The same student was allegedly advised by Chua to dress in an “outgoing” way for her interview with Kavanaugh, to send Chua pictures of herself in different outfits before attending her interview. (The student did not send the photos.)
“It is possible that they were making observations but not following edicts from him,” said one student who was given similar advice. “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.”
By Thursday evening, the story had prompted a response from the dean of Yale Law School, Heather Gerken. In a statement provided to NBC News, Gerken said, “While we cannot comment on individual complaints or investigations, the Law School and the University thoroughly investigate all complaints regarding violations of University rules and take no options off the table.” The statement continued with the dean adding, “I strongly encourage any members of our community who have been affected by misconduct to take advantage of Yale University’s resources for reporting incidents and receiving support.”
Kavanaugh’s clerkships were particularly coveted because of his proximity to then-Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom he in turn vetted clerks. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation proceedings — to fill the vacancy left by Kennedy’s retirement — are currently mired in controversy, following an allegation by Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh held her down and groped her while they were in high school. He denies the allegation.
Chua is well known beyond legal and scholarly circles as the author of a controversial parenting book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which reflected on her efforts to give her children what she describes as a traditional, strict “Chinese” upbringing. She has also written books on international affairs, ethnic-American culture, and tribal loyalties in U.S. politics.
A Yale Law School official told The Guardian via email, “This is the first we have heard claims that Professor Chua coached students to look ‘like models.’ We will look into these claims promptly, taking into account the fact that Professor Chua is currently unreachable due to serious illness. If true, this advice is clearly unacceptable.”
Chua, although recently hospitalized and currently off work recuperating, also emailed The Guardian, stating, “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.
“There is good reason so many of them have gone on to Supreme Court clerkships; he only hires those who are extraordinarily qualified. As I wrote in The Wall Street Journal, he has also been an exceptional mentor to his female clerks and a champion of their careers. Among my proudest moments as a parent was the day I learned our daughter would join those ranks.”
The Guardian also reinforced there is no allegation that the female students who worked for Kavanaugh were chosen for physical appearance or that they were not qualified. All of this took place with a Friday deadline looming for Christine Blasey Ford, the university professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault decades ago, to decided whether she would testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. As of late Thursday, Ford’s lawyers were trying to negotiate terms under which she would testify — not on Monday, but possibly later next week.