The Volokh Conspiracy

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Should Law Professors Sign Letters on Public Issues if They Don't Fully Agree with the Letters?

I don't sign such letters unless I fully agree with every assertion made.


2,500 or so law professors signed a letter, published in the New York Times, stating that Brett Kavanaugh should not be confirmed to the Supreme Court because his performance at the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing showed that he lacks the requisite judicial temperament.

The letter's attack on Kavanaugh's tempermament starts with this: "The question at issue was of course painful for anyone. But Judge Kavanaugh exhibited a lack of commitment to judicious inquiry. Instead of being open to the necessary search for accuracy, Judge Kavanaugh was repeatedly aggressive with questioners."

Whatever one thinks of Kavanaugh in general, or his temperament more specifically, or his temperament during his testimony even more specifically, this line of attack is absurd. The "question at issue" was whether Kavanaugh was a violent sexual predator. He completely denied it. If Kavanaugh was telling the truth, there was no reason for him to have a commitment to any further "inquiry," judicious or not, nor to be open to a "search for accuracy," because he already knew that the "issue at hand" was malicious slander. If he was lying, then the issue was his lying, not his temperament.

I know and respect some of the folks who signed this letter, and, to the extent that they read the letter with any care, I have to think that this language struck at least some of them as silly for the reasons stated above. If so, and they signed the letter anyway, I presume it was because this was "the" letter regarding Kavanaugh's temperament that was being circulated, and circulated in time to potentially affect the vote on Kavanaugh (unlikely, especially because I don't believe that anyone who signed the letter publicly opposing Kavanaugh had publicly supported him before the Ford allegations) or to at least to make a public show of their opposition to Kavanaugh, either because of temperament or other issues.

My own policy, as it's evolved over the years, is that I don't sign any letters, briefs, op-eds, co-authored articles, etc, unless I fully agree with them. If one is lending your name to a public statement, one is endorsing all of it, and giving whatever credibility one's reputation can confer on the text. In fact, well before the Ford allegations arose, I was asked to sign a pro-Kavanaugh letter. I declined because while I supported the general thrust of the letter, some representations were made in the letter that I didn't feel I could endorse, largely because I wasn't sufficiently familiar with Kavanaugh judicial record.