Arizona law professors among thousands urging a ‘no’ vote on Kavanaugh

Crowds gathered Thurday outside the Supreme Court to rally against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the court. A Senate vote on the nomination is expected this weekend. (Photo by Imani Stephens/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – More than 2,400 law professors, including at least 21 from Arizona, have signed an open letter of opposition to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

The professors, whose numbers skyrocketed after the letter first appeared Wednesday on the New York Times online editorial pages, raised concerns about Kavanaugh’s temperament and partisanship, citing his combative final appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That performance led one Arizona State University professor who signed the letter to say he did not want anyone on the court who “feels the need to take revenge on enemies.”

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“It strikes fear in my heart to see a judge say that,” Paul Bender, a law professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said in reference to Kavanaugh’s testimony that “what goes around comes around.”

The letter comes as Kavanaugh appears headed to a confirmation vote this weekend, after the FBI delivered a report to the Senate Thursday on its investigation of accusations by two women who said he had sexually assaulted them while in high school and college.

Those charges were aired by Christine Blasey Ford, one of the accusers, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

Her testimony was followed by an incensed Kavanaugh, who accused Democrats of orchestrating a well-funded smear campaign against him. He said Democrats were still smarting over the 2016 election of President Donald Trump and out to get him for his work on the independent counsel investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton, among other transgressions.

The lawyers’ letter focused on that testimony, saying Kavanaugh had “displayed a lack of judicial temperament that would be disqualifying for any court, and certainly for elevation to the highest court of this land.”

Hundreds rallied outside the Supreme Court and in the Senate to oppose Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Cronkite News video by Imani Stephens)

While acknowledging the “painful” situation Kavanaugh faced at the hearing, the letter said his contentious responses to senators’ questions “exhibited a lack of commitment to judicious inquiry.”

All the Arizona professors who were contacted said they did not have issues with the confirmation before last weeks’ hearing. Some said they disagreed with his judicial philosophy, but acknowledged he was qualified for the position. That changed after his fiery testimony.

“We teach our students to not behave that way,” said ASU law professor Bijal Shah. “We teach our students to display a certain temperament when they enter the workforce.”

Shah said the lawyers’ letter “says something simple” that people on all sides of the political spectrum can agree on.

Senate Republicans have defended Kavanaugh’s outburst as understandable considering the allegations, but Katherine Barnes called his reaction troubling.

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“This does damage to our judiciary system,” said Barnes, a professor at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law. “If I was a litigant in front of that judge I would feel like the process had no validity.”

Barnes said Kavanaugh’s “childish remarks and retorts” at the hearing threaten the judiciary’s role in protecting the rule of law. She said the Supreme Court interprets the laws passed by the senators Kavanaugh sparred with, and wondered if he would be able to “put aside partisanship” at such times.

Although it’s normal for judicial nominees to avoid direct answers when asked how they would rule in potential cases, Barnes said Kavanaugh’s answers “went beyond that.” She said he deflected answers in a way that was “disrespectful of questioners and process.”

Bender also criticized Kavanaugh’s answers to members of the committee, saying he did not think they were truthful. Bender said Kavanaugh’s response to a reference in his high school yearbook to him being a “Renate Alumnus” was an “outright lie.”

The professors who could be contacted Thursday all said they would urge Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of a handful of undecided senators, to vote no when the nomination comes to the Senate floor.

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