One source said that in at least one case, a law student was so put off by Chua’s advice that she decided not to pursue a clerkship with Brett Kavanaugh. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters
A top professor at Yale law school who strongly endorsed supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a “mentor to women” privately told a group of law students last year that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s female law clerks all “looked like models” and would provide advice to students about their physical appearance if they wanted to work for him, the Guardian has learned.
Amy Chua, a Yale professor who wrote a bestselling book on parenting called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was known for instructing female law students who were preparing for interviews with Kavanaugh on ways they could dress to exude a “model-like” femininity to help them win a post in Kavanaugh’s chambers, according to sources.
Kavanaugh is facing intense scrutiny in Washington following an allegation made by Christine Blasey Ford that he forcibly held her down and groped her while they were in high school. He has denied the allegation. The accusation has mired Kavanaugh’s confirmation in controversy, drawing parallels to allegations of sexual harassment against Justice Clarence Thomas by Anita Hill in the 1990s.
Yale provided Kavanaugh with many of the judge’s clerks over the years, and Chua played an outsized role in vetting the clerks who worked for him. But the process made some students deeply uncomfortable.
One source said that in at least one case, a law student was so put off by Chua’s advice about how she needed to look, and its implications, that she decided not to pursue a clerkship with Kavanaugh, a powerful member of the judiciary who had a formal role in vetting clerks who served in the US supreme court.
In one case, Jed Rubenfeld, also an influential professor at Yale and who is married to Chua, told a prospective clerk that Kavanaugh liked a certain “look”.
“He told me, ‘You should know that Judge Kavanaugh hires women with a certain look,’” one woman told the Guardian. “He did not say what the look was and I did not ask.”
Sources who spoke to the Guardian about their experience with Chua and Rubenfeld would only speak under the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution and damage to their future careers.
[Rubenfeld] told me, 'Kavanaugh hires women with a certain look'. He did not say what the look was and I did not askAnonymous source
Chua advised the same student who Rubenfeld spoke to that she ought to dress in an “outgoing” way for her interview with Kavanaugh, and that the student should send Chua pictures of herself in different outfits before going to interview. The student did not send the photos.
There is no allegation that the female students who worked for Kavanaugh were chosen because of their physical appearance or that they were not qualified.
However, the remarks from Chua and Rubenfeld raise questions about why the couple believed it was important to emphasize the students’ physical appearance when discussing jobs with Kavanaugh. The couple were not known to do that in connection with other judges, sources said.
“It is possible that they were making observations but not following edicts from him,” said one student who received such instructions. “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.”
Kavanaugh is close to Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose retirement from the supreme court left an opening, and Kavanaugh was one of three judges who vetted clerks to serve in Kennedy’s chambers. His role as a so-called “feeder” judge made his clerkships among the most coveted posts for law students across the country, but especially at his alma mater, Yale.
According to one source, Chua invited a group of students that she mentored to a bar last year to catch up and discuss their plans for clerkships. The conversation turned to a high profile #MeToo case that was emerging in the news at the time involving a well known public figure.
The group began to talk about whether the federal judiciary would ever face similar scrutiny, and, according to a source, Chua then said she did not believe it would. She told the students she had known about allegedly abusive and harassing behavior by another judge, Alex Kozinski, who was head of the ninth circuit and was forced to retire from the bench last year after more than a dozen women accused him of harassment.Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld pictured in 2014. Photograph: Mike McGregor for the Guardian
The conversation then turned to Kozinski’s protege and good friend Kavanaugh, who one source said was a familiar name even though he had not yet been nominated to the high court. Chua allegedly told the students that it was “no accident” that Kavanaugh’s female clerks “looked like models”. Student reacted with surprise, and quickly pointed out that Chua’s own daughter was due to clerk for Kavanaugh.
A source said that Chua quickly responded, saying that her own daughter would not put up with any inappropriate behaviour.
Chua has cancelled her classes at Yale this semester and, according to her office, has been hospitalised and is not taking calls. Rubenfeld sent an email to the Yale law school community that said his wife had been ill and in hospital and had a long period of recuperation ahead of her.
The Guardian has learned that Rubenfeld is currently the subject of an internal investigation at Yale. The investigation is focused on Rubenfeld’s conduct, particularly with female law students. Students have also raised related concerns to Yale authorities about Chua’s powerful influence in the clerkships process. The investigation was initiated before Kavanaugh was nominated by Donald Trump to serve on the high court.
Rubenfeld said in a statement to the Guardian: “In June, Yale University informed me that it would conduct what it terms an ‘informal review’ of certain allegations, but that to preserve anonymity, I was not entitled to know any specifics. As a result, I do not know what I am alleged to have said or done. I was further advised that the allegations were not of the kind that would jeopardize my position as a long-tenured member of the faculty.
This is the first we have heard claims that Chua coached students to look ‘like models’. We will look into these claimsYale law school
“For some years, I have contended with personal attacks and false allegations in reaction to my writing on difficult and controversial but important topics in the law. I have reason to suspect I am now facing more of the same. While I believe strongly that universities must conduct appropriate reviews of any allegations of misconduct, I am also deeply concerned about the intensifying challenges to the most basic values of due process and free, respectful academic expression and exchange at Yale and around the country.
“Nevertheless, I stand ready to engage with this process in the hope that it can be expeditiously concluded.”
In a statement, Yale law school said it could not confirm or deny the existence of an internal investigation.
A Yale law school official said in an emailed statement: “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 and her husband are towering figures at Yale and were described by one student as being the centre of gravity at the elite law school, connecting students to jobs and clerkships, and rewarding loyalty.
The couple wrote a controversial book together in 2014 called The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. It said that a mix of feeling superior, with some insecurity, were two traits that led to success. It also emphasised the need for “impulse control”.
The couple have hired a well-known crisis communications expert but he did not respond to specific questions from the Guardian about Chua’s remarks or the internal investigation.
In an emailed statement, Chua told the Guardian: “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 White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.