Over 300 students, faculty, staff, and alumni at Harvard Law School (“HLS”) signed a petition urging Dean Manning and the Law School to publicly oppose the appointment of a new Justice to the Supreme Court before Inauguration Day.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intends to rush President Trump’s nominee through the confirmation process to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This move amounts to blatant hypocrisy: when Justice Antonin Scalia died nine months before the election, McConnell refused to give Judge Merrick Garland a hearing, saying that the people should be heard. The 2020 election is already well underway, given mail-in and early voting, and the American people’s votes will be counted in a matter of weeks. Confirming a nominee in these unprecedented circumstances after refusing to do so four years ago undermines the democratic legitimacy of our judiciary.
“We fear for the legitimacy of the legal system to which we’ve devoted our futures,” said Brendan Schneiderman, a third-year student at HLS. “Manipulating the judicial system to serve political ends violates the Senate’s oath to faithfully discharge its duties and would stain the Court and American government at large. We urge the Law School to say as much.”
Signatories believe that these extraordinary times demand an extraordinary statement from the Law School. “During my first semester at law school, HLS said nothing when one of its lecturers, Brett Kavanaugh, was credibly accused of sexual assault and perjury,” said Beth Feldstein, a third-year student at HLS. “Now, the integrity of the Court is once again being undermined by an illegitimate confirmation process. Dean Manning tells the student body that he hopes we ‘honor’ and ‘celebrate’ the values that Justice Ginsburg embodied. It’s time for HLS to live up to these values and break its silence.”
Some of Harvard Law School’s prominent alumni, including former Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Joe Kennedy III, have signed the petition. Larry Tribe, a constitutional law professor at HLS and petition signatory, described the rushed confirmation process as “an irresponsible abuse of the constitution — one designed to kill the ACA and end protection for preexisting conditions.”
The events of this past week have thrown the Barrett nomination and its public health consequences into greater focus. After several Republican Senators contracted COVID-19 at a superspreader event in celebration of Barrett’s nomination, McConnell adjourned the Senate for all legislative functions — except for the Supreme Court nomination. As Americans suffer through a pandemic, facing eviction, food insecurity, and unsafe working conditions, the Senate’s singular focus is ramming through the Supreme Court confirmation process. The Senators diagnosed with COVID this past week have access to stable healthcare and housing, the same benefits of which they deprive their constituents. In a similarly egregious act, President Trump announced that he would end talks for COVID stimulus until after the election, after receiving the highest level of medical care funded by taxpayers.
“This hypocrisy will not end unless we act,” said Niki Rubin, a second year student at HLS. “We are fighting for our lives and our rights. This petition merely calls for Harvard Law School, one of the most powerful institutions in the legal community, to acknowledge the hypocrisy and threat to rule of law we all see unfolding before us. Fight for your students. That’s all that we ask.” Students at Harvard Law School have organized a “week of action” to coincide with the confirmation hearings, and are continuing to accept petition signatures.