Opinion | Jessica Lynn Corsi and Lauren Birchfield Kennedy

It’s not ‘McCarthyism’ to demand Harvard Law School sever ties with Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, on Sept. 27.
Brett Kavanaugh testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, on Sept. 27.(Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

When we decided to pen an alumni letter to Harvard Law School asking them to rescind Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment as a lecturer, we had realistic expectations concerning what we were likely to hear — or, rather, not hear — in response. What we did not expect, however, was for our efforts to be likened to McCarthyism or dismissed as the work of an angry mob. As Harvard continues to stay mum on the Kavanaugh issue, alumni and currently enrolled students remain disappointed by the school’s refusal to provide a clear and public response. Today, we continue to speak out, particularly in the face of efforts to mischaracterize, misrepresent, and minimize our campaign.

As the coauthors of the alumni letter signed by over 1,000 HLS graduates, let us be clear: We are not reacting to Kavanaugh’s political ideologies. We are reacting to the credible allegations of sexual assault against him and the multiple ways he appears to have broken key canons of judicial conduct, up to and possibly including perjury. These issues are supported by both facts and principles — not mere suspicion. They do not come from an angry mob, but rather the voices of those who believe that personal conduct matters, especially when it comes to people fortunate enough to hold positions of leadership — be that as teachers, judges, or political officials. Likening our efforts to, for example, “mob rule” or the McCarthyism of the 1950s is a dangerously false equivalence.


First, as an institution of law, justice, and education, Harvard Law School is obligated to take accusations of sexual assault seriously. Failing to address such accusations by taking action — such as by suspending someone’s position and making continued employment contingent on the outcome of a fair and thorough investigation — demeans the seriousness of sexual assault and those who have survived it.

Let us revisit the data that ought to drive an institution such as Harvard Law School to action: US crime statistics indicate that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience sexual violence in their lifetime, yet somewhere between 63 and 77 percent of all sexual assaults are not reported to police. Persisting, however, is the mythology that the “real” danger is women who lie (as opposed to the perpetrators who harm). This critical aspect of rape culture is not only patently false, it is an insidious fallacy that — along with the shockingly low felony conviction rate for the crime of rape — signals to survivors that they are better off not reporting their assault, despite the lasting harm they suffer. Of the minority percentage of sexual assaults that are reported, only between 2 and 10 percent are classified as false or baseless reporting. This is the same false reporting rate as all other serious crimes.


Data time and again demonstrate a failure of the state, the justice system, and educational institutions to address sexual assault adequately and to hold perpetrators to account. Credible accusations of having perpetrated gender-based crimes warrants thorough investigation. If that reflects the “political correctness” of the day, then so be it. It’s high time.

The Kavanaugh hearings and Kavanaugh’s subsequent appointment to the Supreme Court revealed a national, collective pain. This pain — manifested in the public sharing of trauma, marching in the streets, and face-to-face confrontation of democratically elected senators — represents not only individual experiences of gender-based violence but also the collective experience of not being able to trust our systems of governance, which promise to hold us equal but in fact only protect some, not all. It defames those who have experienced violence and cry out for justice to paint them as part of an unwieldy mob.


Second, setting the allegations of sexual assault aside, there are additional grounds to request that Harvard Law School terminate Kavanaugh’s employment. Kavanaugh, in his Sept. 27Senate testimony, appears to have broken several key canons of judicial conduct, including requirements of honesty, integrity, impartiality, and nonpartisanship. For example, there is the extremely serious matter of possible perjury. Senator Elizabeth Warren has stated that the final FBI investigation into his confirmation contradicts Kavanaugh’s sworn testimony. Lying under oath is as far from judicial integrity as you can get. And, as over a thousand other US law professors have made clear, the partisanship exhibited in Kavanaugh’s testimony is incompatible with essential judicial canons. A person hired to teach the rule of law and separation of powers is no longer fit for this role once he has acted to undermine these very tenets. Kavanaugh’s conduct in this regard is more important than instructional skill, teaching evaluations, or hypothetical student interest in enrolling in a course taught by the justice.

As a premier US law school for those who aspire to the highest levels of the state and federal judiciary, HLS must hold those who teach about the judiciary to the highest ethical standards. Indeed, we thank Harvard Law School for the excellent guidance that its faculty has provided us and the training that helps us to argue these points in real time on the public stage. We will not stop speaking out against attempts to mislead or manipulate why alumni, students, and others have protested Kavanaugh’s holding of leadership positions. We will not be silenced. Brett M. Kavanaugh is not fit to lecture at Harvard Law School, whether or not he serves on the Supreme Court of the United States.


Jessica Lynn Corsi (’10) and Lauren Birchfield Kennedy (’09) are graduates of Harvard Law School.