In the summer of 2018, before the country knew who Christine Blasey Ford was, a simple case was being made for Brett Kavanaugh among a certain group of progressive elite: Judge Kavanaugh should become Justice Kavanaugh because he’s just such a darn swell guy. One of the most prominent figures to make that claim was Yale Law School professor and famed Tiger Mom Amy Chua, who wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in July 2018 titled “Kavanaugh Is a Mentor To Women: I can’t think of a better judge for my own daughter’s clerkship.”
Chua’s qualifications for writing this op-ed came via the role she had played helping place judicial clerks as a member of Yale Law School’s clerkships committee. In the piece, she described several generic and anonymous accounts of Kavanaugh’s “incredible” mentorship, “legendary work ethic,” “commitment to excellence,” “humility,” and “decency.” As evidence of this decency, one anonymous clerk noted, “I’ve never seen him be rude to anyone in the building.” She also explained that her confidence in Kavanaugh was so great that her own daughter was scheduled to begin an appellate clerkship with him (one that likely would have to be postponed if the judge was confirmed to the Supreme Court). She concluded the piece by saying “for my own daughter, there is no judge I would trust more than Brett Kavanaugh to be, in one former clerk’s words, ‘a teacher, advocate, and friend.’ ”
When the op-ed was published in July, Above the Law Executive Editor Elie Mystal correctly noted that Kavanaugh’s “ ‘extraordinary’ ability to hire [Chua’s] daughter” was less of a legal qualification and more just something personally great for Chua’s daughter and Chua herself. As Mystal further elucidated, if Kavanaugh was confirmed, “Chua’s daughter will be at the top of [Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court clerkship] list next year,” making the idea that Chua herself did not have something personal to gain from his appointment a little bit outlandish. As Mystal put it, “Chua is just counting on you people who haven’t been educated in her exceptional parenting style to be too stupid to notice that.”
At that point, Chua’s daughter decided to speak up in defense of her mother, sending what appeared to be her first tweet ever to publicly respond to Mystal:
So, no cause for concern over Chua’s conflict of interest—Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld would be serving her country in the military and wouldn’t have time for any Supreme Court clerkship.
Again, this all happened in July. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her accusations in late September. Soon after that, the Guardian and HuffPost reported that several of Chua’s law students alleged that Chua and her husband Jed Rubenfeld had advised them that Kavanaugh liked to hire clerks with a “certain look,” that Chua reportedly said that it was “no accident” that Kavanaugh’s clerks “looked like models,” and that applicants should dress in an “outgoing” fashion for interviews with the judge. Chua denied having made these comments and continued to defend Kavanaugh throughout the Christine Blasey Ford hearings. She further noted that “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.”
We all know what happened next—Kavanaugh repeatedly lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his experiences in high school relating to his alleged assault on Ford, demonstrated his rage at the idea that he should even have to answer questions about it, and was confirmed to the bench. Since his confirmation, 83 ethics complaints against him have gone without investigation because we don’t have a way to assess the conduct of Supreme Court justices.
Cut to Monday:
If Chua, or Chua-Rubenfeld, or those who came to their defense in this whole stupid, sordid affair had anything resembling shame, then they might apologize to Mystal, or turn down the clerkship, or recede from public life for a little while. That does not seem to be the approach they are taking.
It’s worth ending here with a reminder that, as Slate’s Susan Matthews and Dahlia Lithwick reported last year, Rubenfeld is under investigation for allegedly inappropriate behavior with students. Some of those students told Matthews and Lithwick that they were afraid to report the abuse because of fear Chua would use her position on the Yale Law clerkship committee to retaliate. It’s unclear whether Chua is still on that committee or what the status of that investigation is—we’ve reached out to Yale for comment and will update if we hear back. But it seems clear that she still has clout with at least one important justice.
Correction, June 10, 2019: Due to a photo provider error, the caption of this piece originally misidentified the book pictured in the photo. It is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, not Tiger Mothers.