What rankled me was the rest of the press release: It might’ve been rounded out with a list of faculty members willing to publicly comment on the nomination in accordance with their respective judgments of its merits, positioning Yale Law as a place where diverse scholars labor to reach independent judgments on matters touching their expertise, and to share their insights with the public in a manner that informs debate on vital matters of civic life.
Surely within Yale there are professors offering insightful arguments for and against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, as well as discrete insights varied enough to account for marks on both sides of the ledger.
Instead, the press release included adulatory quotes from Dean Heather Gerken and from professors including Kate Stith, Akhil Reed Amar, William Eskridge, and Abbe R. Gluck, unaccompanied by any criticism whatsoever, as though Yale Law encompasses no professors with smart, deeply held concerns about the nominee. Those voices were excluded from Yale Law’s statement because it was an exercise in public relations rather than a contribution to civic or scholarly life.
That the public voice of a highly esteemed university so closely resembles that of a PR firm is hardly unique to Yale or to this moment, but is nevertheless lamentable. If the Yale students, alumni, and faculty who signed a statement responding to the press release had confined themselves to that critique, I’d have applauded.
Instead, the Yalies who objected to their institution’s PR statement strayed into all sorts of dubious critiques, objectionable not because they opposed Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but because of how they opposed it. Early on, they wrote:
Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination presents an emergency—for democratic life, for our safety and freedom, for the future of our country. His nomination is not an interesting intellectual exercise to be debated amongst classmates and scholars in seminar. Support for Judge Kavanaugh is not apolitical. It is a political choice about the meaning of the constitution and our vision of democracy, a choice with real consequences for real people.
Already the signatories were conflating that which is hugely consequential with “an emergency.” A vacancy on the Supreme Court is not “an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action.” It is an anticipated certainty in American civic life; the Constitution set forth an institutional response to it; and so far that process is playing out lawfully.
That is not to understate the stakes—if the nominee is confirmed, the rulings he makes will inevitably bear on democratic life, safety, freedom, and our country’s future. But the same could be said for every bygone Supreme Court vacancy, presidential election, Senate race, House campaign, and gubernatorial race. The signatories seem to yearn for a politics with lower stakes. While I sympathize, it worries me that people with Ivy League legal educations imagine high-stakes politics to be “an emergency” rather than a perennial inevitability that has always conferred a heavy burden on all citizens.